E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution

E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution

August 29, 2010 6:14 pm 2 comments

Ants

For decades, selflessness — as exhibited in eusocial insect colonies where workers sacrifice themselves for the greater good — has been explained in terms of genetic relatedness. Called kin selection, it was a neat solution to the conundrum of selflessness in what was supposedly an every-animal-for-itself evolutionary battle.

One early proponent was now-legendary Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, a founder of modern sociobiology. Now Wilson is leading the counterattack. [...]

The researchers offer their own alternative theory, based on standard natural selection, but with a twist: After starting with a focus on a single founder, selection moves to the level of colony. From this perspective, a worker ant is something like a cell — part of a larger evolutionary unit, not a unit unto itself.

“Our model proves that looking at a worker ant and asking why it is altruistic is the wrong level of analysis,” said Tarnita. “The important unit is the colony.”

Wired Science: E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution

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