Department News


Professor Peter Nonacs lectures on evolution of cooperation and the major controversy that surrounds it at the Sackler Colloquia

A major controversy is raging about the evolution of cooperation. A recent paper by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita and Edward O. Wilson (2010, Nature, 466:1057-1062) claimed that the evolutionary importance of kin selection has been over-estimated and that the basic mathematical theory underlying the measure of inclusive fitness is flawed. This and other papers by E.O. Wilson have drawn numerous scathing replies. Recently, Peter Nonacs (Professor in EEB) has waded quite literally into the middle of this argument. He has pointed out that Nowak et al. have mis-characterized supposed 'failures' of kin selection theory (Nonacs, 2010, Nature, 467:661), but also that kin selection theory wrongly predicts that monogamy is especially favorable for the evolution of cooperation (Nonacs, 2011, Monogamy and high relatedness do not preferentially favor the evolution of cooperation. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11:58). Dr. Nonacs concludes Nowak et al. may be correct in advocating that modeling the evolution of cooperation through a gene's eye perspective may sometimes be more accurate than actor-based inclusive fitness models. Nevertheless, interactions with kin are very important in affecting evolutionary trajectories and kin selection is likely to continue as a major organizing concept for understanding social behavior. Dr. Nonacs also recently gave a lecture on this topic as an invited speaker at National Academy of Sciences prestigious Sackler Colloquia. His January 7th lecture is available for viewing at: Sackler Colloquia lecture.