SciCombinator

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Concept: Evolutionary biology

273

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

245

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

227

The use of limbs for foraging is documented in both marine and terrestrial tetrapods. These behaviors were once believed to be less likely in marine tetrapods due to the physical constraints of body plans adapted to locomotion in a fluid environment. Despite these obstacles, ten distinct types of limb-use while foraging have been previously reported in nine marine tetrapod families. Here, we expand the types of limb-use documented in marine turtles and put it in context with the diversity of marine tetrapods currently known to use limbs for foraging. Additionally, we suggest that such behaviors could have occurred in ancestral turtles, and thus, possibly extend the evolutionary timeline of limb-use behavior in marine tetrapods back approximately 70 million years. Through direct observationin situand crowd-sourcing, we document the range of behaviors across habitats and prey types, suggesting its widespread occurrence. We argue the presence of these behaviors among marine tetrapods may be limited by limb mobility and evolutionary history, rather than foraging ecology or social learning. These behaviors may also be remnant of ancestral forelimb-use that have been maintained due to a semi-aquatic life history.

Concepts: Evolution, Ecology, Evolutionary biology, Behavior, Tetrapod, Paleontology, Evolutionary history of life, Ichthyostega

195

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

178

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

174

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

171

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

166

154

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

116

How new functions arise de novo is a fundamental question in evolution. We studied de novo evolution of promoters in Escherichia coli by replacing the lac promoter with various random sequences of the same size (~100 bp) and evolving the cells in the presence of lactose. We find that ~60% of random sequences can evolve expression comparable to the wild-type with only one mutation, and that ~10% of random sequences can serve as active promoters even without evolution. Such a short mutational distance between random sequences and active promoters may improve the evolvability, yet may also lead to accidental promoters inside genes that interfere with normal expression. Indeed, our bioinformatic analyses indicate that E. coli was under selection to reduce accidental promoters inside genes by avoiding promoter-like sequences. We suggest that a low threshold for functionality balanced by selection against undesired targets can increase the evolvability by making new beneficial features more accessible.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Evolution, Escherichia coli, Evolutionary biology