Altruism, dispersal, and phenotype-matching kin recognition

Am Nat. 2002 May;159(5):451-68. doi: 10.1086/339458.


We investigate the coevolution between philopatry and altruism in island-model populations when kin recognition occurs through phenotype matching. In saturated environments, a good discrimination ability is a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of sociality. Discrimination decreases not only with the average phenotypic similarity between immigrants and residents (i.e., with environmental homogeneity and past gene flow) but also with the sampling variance of similarity distributions (a negative function of the number of traits sampled). Whether discrimination should rely on genetically or environmentally determined traits depends on the apportionment of phenotypic variance and, in particular, on the relative values of e (the among-group component of environmental variance) and r (the among-group component of genetic variance, which also measures relatedness among group members). If r exceeds e, highly heritable cues do better. Discrimination and altruism, however, remain low unless philopatry is enforced by ecological constraints. If e exceeds r, by contrast, nonheritable traits do better. High e values improve discrimination drastically and thus have the potential to drive sociality, even in the absence of ecological constraints. The emergence of sociality thus can be facilitated by enhancing e, which we argue is the main purpose of cue standardization within groups, as observed in many social insects, birds, and mammals, including humans.