Sunday, March 13, 2011

Supercooperators

Just back from another really useful session at Harvard.  Martin gave me a copy of his new book Supercooperators and I'm now 75% of the way through it. Much of the matetrial is of course familiar to me but it's still fascinating, and for someone who doesn't know this extraordinary branch of science it would be entirely amazing.

There has been much email traffic on the Lifeboat foundation egroup - and I don't think I should blog about most of it, but there has been a sub-thread about the mechanisms for evolution.

An e-correspondent who has now retired and hasn't studied the latest literature asks "So the observed association of highly related haploid/diploid species with eusociality is just happenstance?" The answer is yes - to quote NTW
"the association between haplodiploidy and eusociality [is] below statistical significance...Vast numbers of living species, spread across the major taxonomic groups, use either haplodiploid sex determination or clonal reproduction, with the latter yielding the highest possible degree of pedigree relatedness, yet with only one major group, the gall-making aphids, known to have achieved eusociality. For example, among the 70,000 or so known parasitoid and other apocritan Hymenoptera, all of which are haplodiploid, no eusocial species has been found. Nor has a single example come to light from among the 4,000 known hymenopteran sawflies and horntails, even though their larvae often form dense, cooperative aggregations."
Another nail is driven in the kin selection nonsense by this perspective and paper in Science, which shows that the relatedness of human social groups is not particularly high, compared to chimanzees for example, and that "multilevel, nested structures of alliances" are the distinctive feature.

PS I see that on p286 Martin says "Over the years I was fortunate enough to cooperate with a great number of impressive scientists. Here I can only name a few of them ..." and then gives an alphabetical list. It is quite a long one, but I am humbled and honored to be included. To be mentioned even vaguely in the same breath as Yoh Iwasa, Simon Levin, Bob May, Peter Schuster, Karl Sigmund, Robert Trivers, Bert Vogelstein and EO Wilson is amazing.

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