Thursday, 31 October 2013

Kin recognition is what kin selection does

One thing I learned from reading "Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship" was that there was a debate over whether kin recognition and other adaptations related to kin selection are really all that different. I had previously absorbed (from the literature on the topic) the idea that "kin recognition" was a subset of "kin discrimination". Looking at another individual and seeing that they are similar to you and other family members is called "kin recognition". Helping nestmates (regardless of whether they resemble you) is called "kin discrimination".

However, another camp holds that kin recognition is what kin selection does. From this perspective dividing "kin recognition" from "kin discrimination" isn't carving nature at the joints. It's trying to make a distinction where there isn't really much of a difference:

I suggest that group or individual recognition systems might well qualify as kin recognition regardless of the cues used, provided that the groups or individuals so recognised are routinely kin and that the fitness benefits associated with recognition typically flow among kin. Grafen's insistence that kin recognition be a function of genetically based cues and that no individual or group recognition system should qualify excludes many recognition systems that may well function to associate kin in a fitness enhancing context. Kin recognition is an inherently functional concept and any definition or restriction that relies too much on a particular mechanisms or source of cues is problematic. (Stuart 1991).

I've warmed up to this. "Kin recognition" and "kin discrimination" is too much terminology for what is basically one type of effect. "Kin recognition" is the more popular term (by a factor of five). The "kin discrimination" category is surely the more useful one. I think we should just refer to "kin discrimination" as "kin recognition".

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