Saturday, 28 March 2015

David Queller on the evolution of eusociality

Liao, Rong and Queller just weighed in on the Nowak/Tarnita/Wilson 2010 model of the evolution of eusociality.

That paper was mostly smacked down by critics because of its delusional depiction of kin selection, but few bothered to criticize its model of the evolution of eusociality. Now, David Queller's gone through the model, and the results are not too pretty.

They had a modeling strategy that should work and should be fine, but they weren’t careful enough when they made claims about their models’ novel results
...David Queller is quoted as saying.

From the abstract of the article:

The claim of these authors was bolstered by a new model of the evolution of eusociality with novel conclusions that appeared to overturn some major results from inclusive fitness. Here we report an expanded examination of this kind of model for the evolution of eusociality and show that all three of its apparently novel conclusions are essentially false. Contrary to their claims, genetic relatedness is important and causal, workers are agents that can evolve to be in conflict with the queen, and eusociality is not so difficult to evolve. The misleading conclusions all resulted not from incorrect math but from overgeneralizing from narrow assumptions or parameter values. For example, all of their models implicitly assumed high relatedness, but modifying the model to allow lower relatedness shows that relatedness is essential and causal in the evolution of eusociality. Their modeling strategy, properly applied, actually confirms major insights of inclusive fitness studies of kin selection. This broad agreement of different models shows that social evolution theory, rather than being in turmoil, is supported by multiple theoretical approaches. It also suggests that extensive prior work using inclusive fitness, from microbial interactions to human evolution, should be considered robust unless shown otherwise.
Queller's paper certainly makes entertaining reading. However I can't help thinking that it takes the Nowak/Tarnita/Wilson paper too seriously. The most obvious response to that paper is, I think, ridicule. Jon Wilkins hit roughly the right note with Important Harvard Scientists Attack Kin Selection.

News coverage:

Update 2015-05-09:

Nowak and Allen reply in Inclusive Fitness Theorizing Invokes Phenomena That Are Not Relevant for the Evolution of Eusociality

Liao, Rong and Queller reply: Some Agreement on Kin Selection and Eusociality?

Nowak's papers on the topic are here.

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