[New Paper] Kin discrimination and demography modulate patterns of sexual conflict

Faria GS, Gardner A & Carazo P (in press) Kin discrimination and demography modulate patterns of sexual conflictNature Ecology & Evolution. doi: 10.1038/s41559-020-1214-6


(Image: Africa Gómez)

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the overlap between kin selection and sexual selection, particularly concerning how kin selection can put the brakes on harmful sexual conflict. However, there remains a significant disconnect between theory and empirical research. Whilst empirical work has focused on kin-discriminating behaviour, theoretical models have assumed indiscriminating behaviour. Additionally, theoretical work makes particular demographic assumptions that constrain the relationship between genetic relatedness and the scale of competition, and it is not clear that these assumptions reflect the natural setting in which sexual conflict has been empirically studied. Here, we plug this gap between current theoretical and empirical understanding by developing a mathematical model of sexual conflict that incorporates kin discrimination and different patterns of dispersal. We find that kin discrimination and group dispersal inhibit harmful male behaviours at an individual level, but kin discrimination intensifies sexual conflict at the population level.

[New Paper] Does kin discrimination promote cooperation?

Faria GS & Gardner A (2020) Does kin discrimination promote cooperation? Biology Letters 16, 20190742.

Genetic relatedness is a key driver of the evolution of cooperation. One mechanism that may ensure social partners are genetically related is kin discrimination, in which individuals are able to distinguish kin from non-kin and adjust their behaviour accordingly. However, the impact of kin discrimination upon the overall level of cooperation remains obscure. Specifically, while kin discrimination allows an individual to help more-related social partners over less-related social partners, it is unclear whether and how the population average level of cooperation that is evolutionarily favoured should differ under kin discrimination versus indiscriminate social behaviour. Here, we perform a general mathematical analysis in order to assess whether, when and in which direction kin discrimination changes the average level of cooperation in an evolving population. We find that kin discrimination may increase, decrease or leave unchanged the average level of cooperation, depending upon whether the optimal level of cooperation is a convex, concave or linear function of genetic relatedness. We develop an extension of the classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ model of cooperation in order to provide an illustration of these results. Our analysis provides a method to guide future research on the evolutionary consequences of kin discrimination.

[New Paper] Price’s equation made clear

Gardner A (2020) Price’s equation made clear. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B — Biological Sciences 375, 20190361.Price’s equation provides a very simple—and very general—encapsulation of evolutionary change. It forms the mathematical foundations of several topics in evolutionary biology, and has also been applied outwith evolutionary biology to a wide range of other scientific disciplines. However, the equation’s combination of simplicity and generality has led to a number of misapprehensions as to what it is saying and how it is supposed to be used. Here, I give a simple account of what Price’s equation is, how it is derived, what it is saying and why this is useful. In particular, I suggest that Price’s equation is useful not primarily as a predictor of evolutionary change but because it provides a general theory of selection. As an illustration, I discuss some of the insights Price’s equation has brought to the study of social evolution.

[New Paper] The demography of human warfare can drive sex differences in altruism

Micheletti A, Ruxton GD & Gardner A (in press) The demography of human warfare can drive sex differences in altruism. Evolutionary Human Sciences.

Recent years have seen great interest in the suggestion that between-group aggression and within-group altruism have coevolved. However, these efforts have neglected the possibility that warfare – via its impact on demography – might influence human social behaviours more widely, not just those directly connected to success in war. Moreover, the potential for sex differences in the demography of warfare to translate into sex differences in social behaviour more generally has remained unexplored. Here, we develop a kin-selection model of altruism performed by men and women for the benefit of their groupmates in a population experiencing intergroup conflict. We find that warfare can promote altruistic, helping behaviours as the additional reproductive opportunities winners obtain in defeated groups decrease harmful competition between kin. Furthermore, we find that sex can be a crucial modulator of altruism, with there being a tendency for the sex that competes more intensely with relatives to behave more altruistically and for the sex that competes more intensely with non-relatives in defeated groups to receive more altruism. In addition, there is also a tendency for the less-dispersing sex to both give and receive more altruism. We discuss implications for our understanding of observed sex differences in cooperation in human societies.

[New Paper] Resource heterogeneity and the evolution of public-goods cooperation

Stilwell P, O’Brien S, Hesse E, Lowe C, Gardner A & Buckling A (2020) Resource heterogeneity and the evolution of public-goods cooperation. Evolution Letters doi: 10.1002/ev13.158Heterogeneity in resources is a ubiquitous feature of natural landscapes affecting many aspects of biology. However, the effect of environmental heterogeneity on the evolution of cooperation has been less well studied. Here, using a mixture of theory and experiments measuring siderophore production by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa as a model for public goods based cooperation, we explore the effect of heterogeneity in resource availability. We show that cooperation in metapopulations that were spatially heterogeneous in terms of resources can be maintained at a higher level than in homogeneous metapopulations of the same average resource value. The results can be explained by a positive covariance between fitness of cooperators, population size, and local resource availability, which allowed cooperators to have a disproportionate advantage within the heterogeneous metapopulations. These results suggest that natural environmental variation may help to maintain cooperation.

[PhD Opportunity] Theory of social evolution

I’m currently offering a fully-funded (research costs + tuition fees + stipend) 3.5 year PhD studentship, for uptake in Sep 2020 (though the start date is flexible).

Theory of social evolution: adaptation of genes, individuals and groups.

Natural selection explains the appearance of design in the living world. But at what level is this design expected to manifest – gene, individual or group – and what is its function? Social evolution provides a window on this problem, because it is in the context of social interaction that the interests of genes, individuals and groups come into conflict with each other.

I invite applications for a PhD studentship in my research group at the School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Scotland, to develop new theory on the topic of social evolution. The project will suit a Biology graduate with a strong interest in social evolution, but applications from graduates with other backgrounds are also encouraged, and although prior experience in mathematical modelling would be helpful this is certainly not required as the requisite training will be provided.

Current research in my lab involves development of general theory – using kin selection, multilevel selection, game theory and theoretical population genetics approaches – as well as more specific mathematical and computer simulation models that are tailored to the biology of particular organisms, from microbes to insects to humans. Much of our ongoing work is focused on intragenomic conflicts and associated clinical pathologies, plus the role of sex and gender in social evolution. See the rest of this website for details.

If evolutionary biology really fascinates you, and you are a careful thinker, then you will flourish in the kind of project that I enjoy supervising.

This studentship is funded by the European Research Council and the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews. There are no nationality restrictions on who can apply, and the studentship will cover both Home and Overseas tuition fees.

Applications are to be made through the School of Biology website by 1 Dec 2019. Please direct informal enquiries to me at [email protected].

[New Paper] The greenbeard effect

Gardner A (2019) The greenbeard effect. Current Biology 29, R430-R431.

What is the greenbeard effect? The greenbeard effect is a driver of social evolution, and one of the three basic mechanisms of kin selection. It was first described in the 1960s, in the context of W.D. Hamilton’s work on the evolution of altruism and other social behaviours. Hamilton noted that a gene encoding altruistic behaviour, and hence reducing the fitness of its carrier, can nevertheless be favoured by kin selection if the individuals who benefit from the altruism also carry copies of the same gene. The first two mechanisms of kin selection (kin discrimination and population viscosity) involve the beneficiaries of altruism being genealogically close kin of the altruist, whereas the third mechanism (the greenbeard effect) can operate even when the altruist and her beneficiaries are not genealogical kin.

[New Group Member] Kerstin Stucky

Kerstin Stucky has begun her PhD with us this week; she’ll be working on social and cultural evolution in humans. Welcome to the lab, Kerstin!

[New Paper] Genomic imprinting as a window into human language evolution

Hitchcock TJ, Paracchini S & Gardner A (2019) Genomic imprinting as a window into human language evolution. BioEssays 41, 1800212.

Humans spend large portions of their time and energy talking to one another, yet it remains unclear whether this activity is primarily selfish or altruistic. Here, it is shown how parent‐of‐origin specific gene expression—or “genomic imprinting”—may provide an answer to this question. First, it is shown why, regarding language, only altruistic or selfish scenarios are expected. Second, it is pointed out that an individual’s maternal‐origin and paternal‐origin genes may have different evolutionary interests regarding investment into language, and that this intragenomic conflict may drive genomic imprinting which—as the direction of imprint depends upon whether investment into language is relatively selfish or altruistic—may be used to discriminate between these two possibilities. Third, predictions concerning the impact of various mutations and epimutations at imprinted loci on language pathologies are derived. In doing so, a framework is developed that highlights avenues for using intragenomic conflicts to investigate the evolutionary drivers of language.

[New Paper] Sexual selection in complex communities: Integrating interspecific reproductive interference in structured populations

McDonald GC, Gardner A & Pizzari T (in press) Sexual selection in complex communities: integrating interspecific reproductive interference in structured populations. Evolution.

The social structure of populations plays a key role in shaping variation in sexual selection. In nature, sexual selection occurs in communities of interacting species; however, heterospecifics are rarely included in characterizations of social structure. Heterospecifics can influence the reproductive outcomes of intrasexual competition by interfering with intraspecific sexual interactions (interspecific reproductive interference [IRI]). We outline the need for studies of sexual selection to incorporate heterospecifics as part of the social environment. We use simulations to show that classic predictions for the effect of social structure on sexual selection are altered by an interaction between social structure and IRI. This interaction has wide‐ranging implications for patterns of sexual conflict and kin‐selected reproductive strategies in socially structured populations. Our work bridges the gap between sexual selection research on social structure and IRI, and highlights future directions to study sexual selection in interacting communities.