Dispute over role of kin-selection in the evolution of self-sacrificing behaviours
Kin-selection is often used to describe how “moral” inclinations may evolve in social species, the idea being that relatives can share enough genetic code to warrant self-sacrifice, even if it is fatal to the martyr, if enough relatives are thereby helped to survive.
In the Aug. 26 Nature, [E. O.] Wilson and two Harvard colleagues argue that the concept of kin selection is “limited” and “unnecessary.” And they propose steps for the evolution of ants, honeybees and other highly social species with such altruistic behaviors by just the broad “survival of the fittest” forces of natural selection without specifically invoking the power of kinship.
In recent years, Wilson has argued that the close family ties in ant colonies and other highly social groups may be consequences, rather than causes, of the evolution of such extreme social forms. In the new paper he combines his perspective with two co-authors’ mathematical critique of the methods used to calculate kinship effects, arguing that the techniques are as unnecessarily complicated as Ptolemaic astronomy.
“Babylonian astronomers look up in the heavens, and they see the planets moving in ‘epicycles,’” says paper co-author and mathematical biologist Martin Nowak. “But if you put the sun in the center, there are no epicycles.”
Some kin selection adherents are firing back that, even with new math, the challenge itself is old-fashioned. “This is such a tired old debate,” says Ben Oldroyd of the University of Sydney, who studies social insects.
Full article: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/evolution-scrap/