Altruism and Kin Selection

Does true altruism exist in nature?
Within nature Darwin has proposed the notion of natural selection as the driving force of evolution - Altruism and Kin Selection introduction? Individuals acquiring traits solely designed for their survival and reproductive fitness. Accordingly, animals act selfishly to survive and pass along their genes to future generations. Since then, controversy has circled around the idea of organisms acting out in a selfless manor decreasing their fitness for the success of another member’s fitness. Its puzzling to assume individuals will sacrifice themselves for the benefit of another member when Darwin’s assumptions were predominately associated with the survival of the fittest. Explanations to this issue have been observed amongst kin where family members will help the survival of its relatives in order to increase the success of the group; this is otherwise known as kin selection and is one explanation of altruism. Similarly, cooperation in nature has been viewed as a form of altruism where collaborative efforts will benefit the survival of the species versus selfish actions. A study done by Mr. Allee found planarian worms likely to survive 1.5 times longer if they grouped together under intense conditions versus groups who exhibited no grouping. Favoring kin selection and cooperation altruism enhances survival of the group level in turn leaving better fitness rates rather than individualistic behavior. But does each theory demonstrate true altruism in nature? In this paper I will present two opposing theories on true altruistic behavior in nature, one based upon alternative explanations for altruistic actions, while the other emphasizes selfish behavior induced for survival and proves altruism to be based on selfish implications too.

What is altruism? Altruism is defined as a social behavior that decreases the fitness of the actor in turn increasing the fitness of the recipient. (West). While Darwin believed in natural selection he was also aware of many functional help services amongst animals. Therefore, Darwin presumed natural selection to favor socially interactive animals by enabling advantageous traits that indirectly benefit the species at the group level. According to Mr. Domondon’s review, Darwin presented a theoretical species where some monkeys will inherit a gene that permits alarm singling when predators are spotted, while others will not. Essentially the species that contain monkeys with this trait will sacrifice themselves, or engage in costly behavior causing a greater amount of its group members to survive and pass down the alarm-signaling gene. If such genes are generating a higher reproductive success then groups who do not possess the gene, then this altruistic trait will become inherited; fundamentally causing more altruistically modified individuals. Hamilton presented kin selection as an alternative solution to altruism. Behaviors operating between close relatives where an individual will act in a manor costly to oneself in order to help its kin. This is otherwise known as inclusive fitness, consists of both the actors fitness in addition to the fitness of each group member. (West). Inclusive fitness will be highest amongst closer related members in turn creating stronger kin selection. Such instances can be observed where sibling allomothers sacrifice time and effort to care for the offspring of a mother, greatly increasing the survival of the infant; given that the offspring shares a third of the genes of the sibling allomothers, this will increase their inclusive fitness. Simply put, kin selection will succeed if the indirect benefits outweigh the direct cost inflicted upon the actor. So, species displaying altruistic behavior to help their relatives will increase the survival of the community.

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Furthermore, reciprocal altruism additionally gives resolution to the issue of altruism. It is associated with individuals beneficially providing services toward members while accepting costs and expecting this treatment in return later. This can develop into long lasting relationships between individuals where benefits will be higher than temporary costs as the behavior is returned in a tit for tat sense (Silk 2007). Also, game theories provide insight into this behavior; for example, the Prisoner dilemma involves two unrelated individuals in a situation given the opportunity to cooperate with one another to gain a beneficial outcome. On the other hand one may act selfishly to gain individual benefits and the other will acquire the costs entirety. The idea is to achieve equal cooperation and to obtain maximum fitness benefits to each participator. For example, if two monkeys come across a predator they are given two opportunities, flee and leave the other monkey as prey, or jump the leopard in an attempt to overpower the leopard and equally flee. At this point the monkeys will have to decide the best method that will likely be at the individuals best interest. However if both monkeys jump the leopard and survive, it is likely that this trait will be passed down. Hence, cooperation and reciprocal altruism may deem some costs but again benefits outweigh the costs and greatly provide better fitness.

Does true altruism exist in nature? Altruism fundamentally presumes an individual to be sacrificing its own time and resources to benefit another member’s success, posing a huge problem in evolution. Individuals gain beneficial traits by natural selection for the selfish purpose of enhancing their own survival rate. Also, evolution acting at the individual level allows genetic traits unfit for survival to die out. If deleterious genes cause a mutation within a species, perhaps a discoloration unpleasing to the opposite sex, this individual is likely to have a lower fitness, and natural selection will weed this trait out. Thus, animals with successful traits that increase reproductive fitness and survival will continue passing down so that they will surpass proximate competitive species or conditions benefiting the survival of its kind. Mr. Allee has suggested altruistic genes to act selfishly throughout a community, in this case the species should be equally cooperating and engaging in selfless behavior benefiting the species as a whole. However, scientists have brought forth notions of potential cheaters, individuals who will receive benefits from actors and will not return the benefits and or will not display a case of altruism toward individuals. In this case selfish genes will return to the population weeding out altruistic genes. Above all, individuals acting selfishly will gain higher benefits toward their own survival without adhering to any costs. Moreover, while many examples provide solutions to the issues pertaining to altruism it can be argued altruism simply acts in the interest of the actor not solely the recipient. In kin selection the actor is behaving to increase the fitness of its kin by decreasing its own fitness, however it can be argued that the actor is acting selfishly to increase his own genetic heritability. It would be smart to sacrifice myself to save 4 brothers and sisters or ten cousins, thereby increasing a greater amount of genetic fitness embedded in our relatives. Moreover, the acts of altruism are associated only within kin selective communities fundamentally assuming every costly action benefiting a group member will in fact still benefit the actor’s genotypic construction and ultimately fitness.

Although kin selection poses a relationship where the actor engaging to benefit another while accepting costly sacrifices, the actor also maintains motives to increase his own genetic survival. In spite of this, kin selection is not a supporter of true altruism. Ordinarily if true altruism were to exist in nature this would profoundly require only the interests of the recipient, rather than an individuals own. However, kin selection theory explains altruistic behavior as a strategy devised by selfish genes, increasing the reproductive success of the recipient. Yet, the genes of the benefiting member from the act of altruism are indirectly benefiting the genetic survival of the actor. Reciprocal altruism theory also seems to contradict the idea of behaving selfless, when the actor is expecting the behavior in return; this is merely delayed selfishness. Although, interestingly enough altruistic traits may attribute at a group level, however this will still drive individual selfishness; an individual acting selfishly will still benefit at a higher level than those altruistically taking costs, and in turn will reintroduce the selfish behavior back into the population. So does altruism exist in nature? Yes there are forms of altruistic behavior were individuals will help others improve their fitness will succumbing to costs of their own, however these acts are not done selflessly. Therefore, true altruism does not exist in nature. True altruism are acts that do not require benefits back toward the actor, instead only choose to behave supportively with no gains, and this does not exist in nature.

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