The Genetics of Altruism

Publication Date: 
May 1980
Acaemic Press

Paul R. Levitt

Altruism, in the context of this book, is the sacrifice of fitness by one organism to preserve or increase the fitness of one or more conspecifics, and an altruist possesses a genetically based propensity for altruism. The relevance to some social species (e.g. among Hymenoptera) is obvious, but there are behavioural implications for less obviously ‘social’ species, particularly in relation to domestication. The book applies some methods of population genetics to the problem of social evolution. More specifically, it treats a single locus model, with one of its alleles controlling the altruistic trait. The three parts of the book cover reciprocity, kin selection and group selection, the first being similar to frequency-dependent selection, the 2nd referring to altruism between relatives, and the third to classes or groups within a population. Understanding of the mathematical treatment requires a knowledge of elementary probability theory and undergraduate calculus. The book includes a useful glossary of genetic and biological terms used in this subject field. J.D. Turton.