Selfishness and altruism can coexist when help is subject to diminishing returns
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/hdy.2011.2
Altruism and selfishness are 30–50% heritable in man in both Western and non-Western populations. This genetically based variation in altruism and selfishness requires explanation. In non-human animals, altruism is generally directed towards relatives, and satisfies the condition known as Hamilton's rule. This nepotistic altruism evolves under natural selection only if the ratio of the benefit of receiving help to the cost of giving it exceeds a value that depends on the relatedness of the individuals involved. Standard analyses assume that the benefit provided by each individual is the same but it is plausible in some cases that as more individuals contribute, help is subject to diminishing returns. We analyse this situation using a single-locus two-allele model of selection in a diploid population with the altruistic allele dominant to the selfish allele. The analysis requires calculation of the relationship between the fitnesses of the genotypes and the frequencies of the genes. The fitnesses vary not only with the genotype of the individual but also with the distribution of phenotypes amongst the sibs of the individual and this depends on the genotypes of his parents. These calculations are not possible by direct fitness or ESS methods but are possible using population genetics. Our analysis shows that diminishing returns change the operation of natural selection and the outcome can now be a stable equilibrium between altruistic and selfish alleles rather than the elimination of one allele or the other. We thus provide a plausible genetic model of kin selection that leads to the stable coexistence in the same population of both altruistic and selfish individuals. This may explain reported genetic variation in altruism in man.