Monday, May 9, 2011
The controversy over kin selection in the evolution of eusociality
In our next lab-meeting, we will dive in to the recent controversy over kin selection and its utility in explaining the evolution of eusociality in social insects. This controversy started with a provocative paper in "Nature" by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita and Edward O. Wilson, which you can download here. Basically, these three authors argue that kin selection is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the evolution of eusociality, but that standard natural selection theory is sufficient. It is not surprising that this paper has been met by an outcry from many researchers in social evolution, and they have got a severe criticism in this paper, with a lot of different co-authors. Nowak et al. defend themselves against the many critics here.
Who is right? Well, it is up to us to make up our own opinion, after we have read these three papers! We will meet on Friday May 13 at 10.30 in "Argumentet" to discuss these three rather short papers.
For those of you who are interested more in this debate and want some different viewpoints, I can recommend this blogpost by Jerry Coyne who, not surprisingly, is very critical of Nowak et al. So is Richard Dawkins. For a counterpoint and an interesting perspective from a classical proponent of group selection, I can recommend this blogpost by David Sloan Wilson, who criticizes both camps, i. e. both Nowak et al. and their critics, and suggest that both have misunderstood the real issues at stake! David Sloan Wilsons blogpost has the challenging and provocative title: "137 Co-authors Can't Be Wrong - and That's The Problem".
It is certainly a sign of a healthy research field that things like these are intensively debated, and shows that evolutionary biology is as vibrant and exciting as ever, with some fundamentally important controversies that needs to be discussed.