Altruism and ‘kin selection’


Published: 22 August 2003 (GMT+10)

CMI resources relevant to altruism and ‘kin selection’ include our article Helpful animals and the book The Biotic Message by Walter ReMine, which treats group selection and kin selection on pages 125–130.

Consider the following points also:

  1. Origin of social breeding behaviour in mammals. With the marmoset, a colony only has one female reproducing, while other members of the group help raise the twins that are typically born. The benefits of such behaviour can be readily seen, but how could it evolve? The non-dominant females are suppressed from ovulating by pheromones from the dominant female, as well as visual reinforcement of dominance. How could such behaviour evolve?

    Richardson, Sarah, A monopoly on maternity, Discover 15(2):28–29, February 1994; DiscoverMagazine.com.
  2. Failure of the ‘selfish gene’ predictions in sociobiology (a la Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson, etc.). The ‘selfish gene’ hypothesis suggested that step-parents will be less devoted to child rearing than biological parents. Not so. A comparison of parenting of children conceived naturally, through IVF or donor insemination (DI) showed that the quality of parenting with IVF and DI exceeded that in well-functioning families with natural conception.>/p>

    Golombok, S., et al., Child Development, April 1995, City University, London, UK.
    Science News 147(21), 27 May 1995, p. 333.
  3. Evolutionary ‘kinship’ theories of cooperation fail. The naked mole rat and Damaraland mole rat (which is hairy) are eusocial—the colony is organized like a honey bee or ant colony with a ‘queen’ and several males breeding and the rest of the colony caring for the young. ‘This behaviour—like that of termites and ants—is found in very few mammals, and it has remained a puzzle for natural selection.’ With the naked mole rat, the colony is a virtual clone, so helping raise others ensures one’s own genes survive. So the evolutionist reasons from kinship theory for the maintenance of such eusocial behaviour. However, the Damaraland mole rat colony is much more genetically diverse and the colony seems to prefer a replacement queen to come from somewhere else if their queen dies (which would not be very effective at perpetuating the genes of the members of the original colony).

    Holloway, M., Socializing with non-naked mole rats, Scientific American 272(1):11, January 1995; www.sciamdigital.com.

Don Batten