As an evolutionary biologist, I’m very familiar with the idea of kin selection. When I saw a paper titled “The evolution of eusociality” in the table of contents of Nature, and read the abstract saying, “Kin selection? Don’t need it,” I thought to myself, “Ooooh, this is big.”
I’ve read blog posts about it on Plektix and Wired. I listened to first author Martin Nowak being interviewed on the Nature podcast.
Novak does a good job of explaining why kin selection is invoked to invoke the evolution of sterile castes. I’ll also buy his argument that kin selection needs special conditions to work. But I have yet to read or hear a decent summary for how natural selection can pull off this feat. Novak seems to be saying that mathematically, they are the same.
The Wired article suggests that they are resorting to revived form of group selection. Third author, E.O. Wilson, has certainly been suggesting that group selection should be revived for some time (his co-author on that piece, David Sloan Wilson, is quoted in the Wired article.)
I understand that it can be hard to convey mathematical propositions verbally. But I am currently very unsatisfied with the explanations I’ve heard so far. I may not be along in this.
I am not going to have a chance to read the full paper for a while yet. The first day of our fall semester is Monday, and our library only has a subscription to the print edition of Nature.
So here is a challenge to you, fellow science bloggers! Can anyone explain the gist of this paper and how it shows natural selection explains eusociality – and do it without resorting to equations?
Additional: The Ecographica blog has critiqued the paper.
Yet more additional: Jerry Coyne tips his hand. Carl Zimmer tries to explain the fuss.
Nowak M, Tarnita C, Wilson E. 2010. The evolution of eusociality Nature 466(7310): 1057-1062. DOI: 10.1038/nature09205