Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Monogamy and high relatedness do not preferentially favor the evolution of cooperation

Peter Nonacs

Author Affiliations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:58  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-58

Published: 4 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Phylogenetic analyses strongly associate nonsocial ancestors of cooperatively-breeding or eusocial species with monogamy. Because monogamy creates high-relatedness family groups, kin selection has been concluded to drive the evolution of cooperative breeding (i.e., the monogamy hypothesis). Although kin selection is criticized as inappropriate for modeling and predicting the evolution of cooperation, there are no examples where specific inclusive fitness-based predictions are intrinsically wrong. The monogamy hypothesis may be the first case of such a flawed calculation.

Results

A simulation model mutated helping alleles into non-cooperative populations where females mated either once or multiply. Although multiple mating produces sibling broods of lower relatedness, it also increases the likelihood that one offspring will adopt a helper role. Examining this tradeoff showed that under a wide range of conditions polygamy, rather than monogamy, allowed helping to spread more rapidly through populations. Further simulations with mating strategies as heritable traits confirmed that multiple-mating is selectively advantageous. Although cooperation evolves similarly regardless of whether dependent young are close or more distant kin, it does not evolve if they are unrelated.

Conclusions

The solitary ancestral species to cooperative breeders may have been predominantly monogamous, but it cannot be concluded that monogamy is a predisposing state for the evolution of helping behavior. Monogamy may simply be coincidental to other more important life history characteristics such as nest defense or sequential provisioning of offspring. The differing predictive outcome from a gene-based model also supports arguments that inclusive fitness formulations poorly model some evolutionary questions. Nevertheless, cooperation only evolves when benefits are provided for kin: helping alleles did not increase in frequency in the absence of potential gains in indirect fitness. The key question, therefore, is not whether kin selection occurs, but how best to elucidate the differing evolutionary advantages of genetic relatedness versus genetic diversity.