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Evolutionary EcologyConcepts and Case Studies$
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Charles W. Fox, Derek A. Roff, and Daphne J. Fairbairn

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195131543

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195131543.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 15 June 2021

Cooperation and Altruism

Cooperation and Altruism

(p.222) 17 Cooperation and Altruism
Evolutionary Ecology

David Sloan Wilson

Oxford University Press

People have always been fascinated by cooperation and altruism in animals, in part to shed light on our own propensity or reluctance to help others. Darwin’s theory added a certain urgency to the subject because the principle of “nature red in tooth and claw” superficially seems to deny the possibility of altruism and cooperation altogether. Some evolutionary biologists have accepted and even reveled in this vision of nature, giving rise to statements such as “the economy of nature is competitive from beginning to end … scratch an ‘altruist’ and watch a hypocrite bleed”. Others have gone so far in the opposite direction as to proclaim the entire earth a unit that cooperatively regulates its own atmosphere (Lovelock 1979). The truth is somewhere between these two extremes; cooperation and altruism can evolve but only if special conditions are met. As might be expected from the polarized views outlined above, achieving this middle ground has been a difficult process. Science is often portrayed as a heroic march to the truth, but in this case, it is more like the Three Stooges trying to move a piano. I don’t mean to underestimate the progress that been made—the piano has been moved—but we need to appreciate the twists, turns, and reversals in addition to the final location. To see why cooperation and altruism pose a problem for evolutionary theory, consider the evolution of a nonsocial adaptation, such as cryptic coloration. Imagine a population of moths that vary in the degree to which they match their background. Every generation, the most conspicuous moths are detected and eaten by predators while the most cryptic moths survive and reproduce. If offspring resemble their parents, then the average moth will become more cryptic with every generation. Anyone who has beheld a moth that looks exactly like a leaf, right down to the veins and simulated herbivore damage, cannot fail to be impressed by the power of natural selection to evolve breathtaking adaptations at the individual level. Now consider the same process for a social adaptation, such as members of a group warning each other about approaching predators.

Keywords:   Cholera, Emergent properties, Free-rider problem, Genetic relatedeness, Hamilton’s rule, Inclusive fitness, Kin selection, Multilevel selection, Population structure

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