Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Inclusive Fitness and Altruism

The theory defines the inclusive fitness of an organism as the sum of its classical fitness (how many of its own offspring it produces and supports) and the number of equivalents of its own offspring it can add to the population by supporting others. From the gene's point of view, evolutionary success ultimately depends on leaving behind the maximum number of copies of itself in the population. Until 1964, it was generally believed that genes only achieved this by causing the individual to leave the maximum number of viable offspring. However, in 1964 W. D. Hamilton proved mathematically that, because close relatives of an organism share some identical genes, a gene can also increase its evolutionary success by promoting the reproduction and survival of these related or otherwise similar individuals.

The concept serves to explain how natural selection can perpetuate altruism. If there is an '"altruism gene"' (or complex of genes) that influences an organism's behavior to be helpful and protective of relatives and their offspring, this behavior also increases the proportion of the altruism gene in the population, because relatives are likely to share genes with the altruist due to common descent. Altruists may also have some way to recognize altruistic behavior in unrelated individuals and be inclined to support them.

Some might express concern that parental investment (parental care) is said to contribute to inclusive fitness. The distinctions between the kind of beneficiaries nurtured (collateral versus descendant relatives) and the kind of fitnesses used (inclusive versus personal) in our parsing of nature are orthogonal concepts.

Works Cited

Campbell, N., Reece, J., et al. 2002. Biology. 6th ed. San Francisco, California. pp. 1145–1148

Hamilton, W. D. 1964 The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour I and II, J. Theor. Biol. v7, pp 1–16, and 17-55


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