Breeding Together: Kin Selection and Mutualism in Cooperative Vertebrates

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Science  05 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5565, pp. 69-72
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5565.69

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In cooperatively breeding vertebrates, nonbreeding helpers raise young produced by dominant breeders. Although the evolution of cooperative breeding has often been attributed primarily to kin selection (whereby individuals gain “indirect” benefits to their fitness by assisting collateral relatives), there is increasing evidence that helpers can be unrelated to the young they are raising. Recent studies also suggest that the indirect benefits of cooperative behavior may often have been overestimated while the direct benefits of helping to the helper's own fitness have probably been underestimated. It now seems likely that the evolutionary mechanisms maintaining cooperative breeding are diverse and that, in some species, the direct benefits of helping may be sufficient to maintain cooperative societies. The benefits of cooperation in vertebrate societies may consequently show parallels with those in human societies, where cooperation between unrelated individuals is frequent and social institutions are often maintained by generalized reciprocity.

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