The validity and value of inclusive fitness theory

Andrew F. G. Bourke

Abstract

Social evolution is a central topic in evolutionary biology, with the evolution of eusociality (societies with altruistic, non-reproductive helpers) representing a long-standing evolutionary conundrum. Recent critiques have questioned the validity of the leading theory for explaining social evolution and eusociality, namely inclusive fitness (kin selection) theory. I review recent and past literature to argue that these critiques do not succeed. Inclusive fitness theory has added fundamental insights to natural selection theory. These are the realization that selection on a gene for social behaviour depends on its effects on co-bearers, the explanation of social behaviours as unalike as altruism and selfishness using the same underlying parameters, and the explanation of within-group conflict in terms of non-coinciding inclusive fitness optima. A proposed alternative theory for eusocial evolution assumes mistakenly that workers' interests are subordinate to the queen's, contains no new elements and fails to make novel predictions. The haplodiploidy hypothesis has yet to be rigorously tested and positive relatedness within diploid eusocial societies supports inclusive fitness theory. The theory has made unique, falsifiable predictions that have been confirmed, and its evidence base is extensive and robust. Hence, inclusive fitness theory deserves to keep its position as the leading theory for social evolution.

  • Received July 13, 2011.
  • Accepted August 22, 2011.
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