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Concept: Evolutionary biology


The strikingly high incidence of obstructed labor due to the disproportion of fetal size and the mother’s pelvic dimensions has puzzled evolutionary scientists for decades. Here we propose that these high rates are a direct consequence of the distinct characteristics of human obstetric selection. Neonatal size relative to the birth-relevant maternal dimensions is highly variable and positively associated with reproductive success until it reaches a critical value, beyond which natural delivery becomes impossible. As a consequence, the symmetric phenotype distribution cannot match the highly asymmetric, cliff-edged fitness distribution well: The optimal phenotype distribution that maximizes population mean fitness entails a fraction of individuals falling beyond the “fitness edge” (i.e., those with fetopelvic disproportion). Using a simple mathematical model, we show that weak directional selection for a large neonate, a narrow pelvic canal, or both is sufficient to account for the considerable incidence of fetopelvic disproportion. Based on this model, we predict that the regular use of Caesarean sections throughout the last decades has led to an evolutionary increase of fetopelvic disproportion rates by 10 to 20%.

Concepts: Gene, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Natural selection, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Caesarean section, Fitness


Despite its short-term costs, behaviour that appears altruistic can increase an individual’s inclusive fitness by earning direct (selfish) and/or indirect (kin-selected) benefits. An evolved preference for other-regarding or helping behaviour in potential mates has been proposed as an additional mechanism by which these behaviours can yield direct fitness benefits in humans.

Concepts: Evolutionary biology, Motivation, Kin selection, Evolutionary psychology, The Selfish Gene, Altruism, Inclusive fitness, Richard Dawkins


The evolution of sterile worker castes in eusocial insects was a major problem in evolutionary theory until Hamilton developed a method called inclusive fitness. He used it to show that sterile castes could evolve via kin selection, in which a gene for altruistic sterility is favored when the altruism sufficiently benefits relatives carrying the gene. Inclusive fitness theory is well supported empirically and has been applied to many other areas, but a recent paper argued that the general method of inclusive fitness was wrong and advocated an alternative population genetic method. 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.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Kin selection, The Selfish Gene, Altruism, Inclusive fitness


Recent experimental results with humans involved in social dilemma games suggest that cooperation may be a contagious phenomenon and that the selection pressure operating on evolutionary dynamics (i.e., mimicry) is relatively weak. I propose an evolutionary dynamics model that links these experimental findings and evolution of cooperation. By assuming a small fraction of (imperfect) zealous cooperators, I show that a large fraction of cooperation emerges in evolutionary dynamics of social dilemma games. Even if defection is more lucrative than cooperation for most individuals, they often mimic cooperation of fellows unless the selection pressure is very strong. Then, zealous cooperators can transform the population to be even fully cooperative under standard evolutionary dynamics.

Concepts: Natural selection, Biology, Insect, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Artificial selection


The modern Asian monsoonal systems are currently believed to have originated around the end of the Oligocene following a crucial step of uplift of the Tibetan-Himalayan highlands. Although monsoon possibly drove the evolution of many mammal lineages during the Neogene, no evidence thereof has been provided so far. We examined the evolutionary history of a clade of rodents, the Rhizomyinae, in conjunction with our current knowledge of monsoon fluctuations over time. The macroevolutionary dynamics of rhizomyines were analyzed within a well-constrained phylogenetic framework coupled with biogeographic and evolutionary rate studies. The evolutionary novelties developed by these rodents were surveyed in parallel with the fluctuations of the Indian monsoon so as to evaluate synchroneity and postulate causal relationships. We showed the existence of three drops in biodiversity during the evolution of rhizomyines, all of which reflected elevated extinction rates. Our results demonstrated linkage of monsoon variations with the evolution and biogeography of rhizomyines. Paradoxically, the evolution of rhizomyines was accelerated during the phases of weakening of the monsoons, not of strengthening, most probably because at those intervals forest habitats declined, which triggered extinction and progressive specialization toward a burrowing existence.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Evolutionary biology, Extinction, Monsoon, Biogeography


HIV-1 is already known to have an extremely fast mutation rate, but a new study shows it to be more than two orders of magnitude higher than previously believed, and that this is largely due to host cytidine deaminases. Read the Research Article.

Concepts: HIV, Mutation, Research, Evolutionary biology, Mutation rate


Dual-system theories of human cognition, under which fast automatic processes can complement or compete with slower deliberative processes, have not typically been incorporated into larger scale population models used in evolutionary biology, macroeconomics, or sociology. However, doing so may reveal important phenomena at the population level. Here, we introduce a novel model of the evolution of dual-system agents using a resource-consumption paradigm. By simulating agents with the capacity for both automatic and controlled processing, we illustrate how controlled processing may not always be selected over rigid, but rapid, automatic processing. Furthermore, even when controlled processing is advantageous, frequency-dependent effects may exist whereby the spread of control within the population undermines this advantage. As a result, the level of controlled processing in the population can oscillate persistently, or even go extinct in the long run. Our model illustrates how dual-system psychology can be incorporated into population-level evolutionary models, and how such a framework can be used to examine the dynamics of interaction between automatic and controlled processing that transpire over an evolutionary time scale.

Concepts: Psychology, Natural selection, Evolution, Biology, Cognition, Evolutionary biology, Evolutionary psychology, Charles Darwin


One of the most intriguing questions in evolution is how organisms exhibit suitable phenotypic variation to rapidly adapt in novel selective environments. Such variability is crucial for evolvability, but poorly understood. In particular, how can natural selection favour developmental organisations that facilitate adaptive evolution in previously unseen environments? Such a capacity suggests foresight that is incompatible with the short-sighted concept of natural selection. A potential resolution is provided by the idea that evolution may discover and exploit information not only about the particular phenotypes selected in the past, but their underlying structural regularities: new phenotypes, with the same underlying regularities, but novel particulars, may then be useful in new environments. If true, we still need to understand the conditions in which natural selection will discover such deep regularities rather than exploiting ‘quick fixes’ (i.e., fixes that provide adaptive phenotypes in the short term, but limit future evolvability). Here we argue that the ability of evolution to discover such regularities is formally analogous to learning principles, familiar in humans and machines, that enable generalisation from past experience. Conversely, natural selection that fails to enhance evolvability is directly analogous to the learning problem of over-fitting and the subsequent failure to generalise. We support the conclusion that evolving systems and learning systems are different instantiations of the same algorithmic principles by showing that existing results from the learning domain can be transferred to the evolution domain. Specifically, we show that conditions that alleviate over-fitting in learning systems successfully predict which biological conditions (e.g., environmental variation, regularity, noise or a pressure for developmental simplicity) enhance evolvability. This equivalence provides access to a well-developed theoretical framework from learning theory that enables a characterisation of the general conditions for the evolution of evolvability.

Concepts: Gene, Natural selection, Evolution, Biology, Evolutionary biology, Phenotype, Selection, Charles Darwin


During the approximately 18-32 thousand years of domestication [1], dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment [2]. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species [3], although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90-100 million years ago [4]. In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known. VIDEO ABSTRACT:

Concepts: Human, Natural selection, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Cerebral cortex, Evolutionary biology, Primate


Humans often cooperate with strangers, despite the costs involved. A long tradition of theoretical modeling has sought ultimate evolutionary explanations for this seemingly altruistic behavior. More recently, an entirely separate body of experimental work has begun to investigate cooperation’s proximate cognitive underpinnings using a dual-process framework: Is deliberative self-control necessary to reign in selfish impulses, or does self-interested deliberation restrain an intuitive desire to cooperate? Integrating these ultimate and proximate approaches, we introduce dual-process cognition into a formal game-theoretic model of the evolution of cooperation. Agents play prisoner’s dilemma games, some of which are one-shot and others of which involve reciprocity. They can either respond by using a generalized intuition, which is not sensitive to whether the game is one-shot or reciprocal, or pay a (stochastically varying) cost to deliberate and tailor their strategy to the type of game they are facing. We find that, depending on the level of reciprocity and assortment, selection favors one of two strategies: intuitive defectors who never deliberate, or dual-process agents who intuitively cooperate but sometimes use deliberation to defect in one-shot games. Critically, selection never favors agents who use deliberation to override selfish impulses: Deliberation only serves to undermine cooperation with strangers. Thus, by introducing a formal theoretical framework for exploring cooperation through a dual-process lens, we provide a clear answer regarding the role of deliberation in cooperation based on evolutionary modeling, help to organize a growing body of sometimes-conflicting empirical results, and shed light on the nature of human cognition and social decision making.

Concepts: Game theory, Decision making, Cognition, Evolutionary biology, The Evolution of Cooperation, Kin selection, Reciprocal altruism, Altruism