Multilevel selection: the evolution of cooperation in non-kin groups

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Hamiltons (1964a, 1964b) landmark papers are rightly recognized as the formal basis for our understanding of the evolution of altruistic traits. However, Hamiltons equation as he originally expressed it is simplistic. A genetically oriented approach to studying multilevel selection can provide insights into how the terminology and assumptions used by Hamilton can be generalized. Using contextual analysis I demonstrated that Hamiltons rule actually embodies three distinct processes, group selection, individual selection, and transmission genetics or heritability. Whether an altruistic trait will evolve depends the balance of all of these factors. The genetical approach, and particularly, contextual analysis provides a means of separating these factors and examining them one at a time. Perhaps the greatest issue with Hamiltons equation is the interpretation of r. Hamilton (1964a) interpreted this as relatedness. In this paper I show that what Hamilton called relatedness is more generally interpreted as the proportion for variance among groups, and that many processes in addition to relatedness can increase the variance among groups. I also show that the evolution of an altruistic trait is driven by the ratio of the heritability at the group level to the heritability at the individual level. Under some circumstances this ratio can be greater than 1. In this situation altruism can evolve even if selection favoring selfish behavior is stronger than selection favoring altruism.

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