August 19, 2013
Altruism May Have Origins In Manipulation
National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS)
Manipulation is often thought of as morally repugnant, but it might be responsible for the evolutionary origins of some helpful or altruistic behavior, according to a new study.
In the study published this week in the journal American Naturalist, the researchers developed a mathematical model for the evolution of manipulated behavior and applied it to maternal manipulation in eusocial organisms, such as ants, wasps, and bees, which form colonies with reproductive queens and sterile workers. In the model, mothers produce two broods, and they manipulate the first-brood offspring to stay in the maternal site and help raise the second brood. Mothers can do this by disrupting the offspring's development in some way, for example through poor feeding or aggressive behavior. Manipulated offspring of the first-brood stay and help to raise the second brood. Alternatively, first-brood offspring can resist manipulation and leave.
The researchers show that an offspring's resistance to manipulation may often fail to evolve, if the costs of resistance are high. In a sense, then, helping or altruistic behavior is coerced through manipulation.
"The evidence in so-called primitive eusociality, where helping is often coerced through aggression or differential feeding, appears consistent with these results," said lead author Mauricio Gonzalez-Forero, who conducted the study while a graduate research assistant at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.
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