The Evolutionary Origins of Hierarchy

Hierarchy is a ubiquitous organizing principle in biology, and a key reason evolution produces complex, evolvable organisms, yet its origins are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate for the first time that hierarchy evolves as a result of the costs of network connections. We confirm a previous finding that connection costs drive the evolution of modularity, and show that they also cause the evolution of hierarchy. We further confirm that hierarchy promotes evolvability in addition to evolvability caused by modularity. Because many biological and human-made phenomena can be represented as networks, and because hierarchy is a critical network property, this finding is immediately relevant to a wide array of fields, from biology, sociology, and medical research to harnessing evolution for engineering.


Mengistu H, Huizinga J, Mouret J-B, Clune J (2016) The Evolutionary Origins of Hierarchy. PLoS Comput Biol 12(6): e1004829. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004829


One thought on “The Evolutionary Origins of Hierarchy

  1. Interesting paper! After reading Kontopoulos’ discussion and comparison of heterarchical vs. hierarchical systems in his book The Logics of Social Structure, I’ve always wondered why more researchers don’t adopt heterarchy as the preferred social arrangement.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s