W.D Hamilton in 1964 gave two important concepts of evolutionary biology where he gave a clear distinction between an organismâ€™s personal fitness and inclusive fitness. He defined personal fitness as the number of offspring an individual produces by reproduction and inclusive fitness as the number of offspring equivalents that an individual have. The offspring equivalent refers to the organisms from the next generation that share the individualâ€™s (whose inclusive fitness is being talked about) genes. Thus inclusive fitness would take into account the individualâ€™s siblingâ€™s child as well who would have some genetic similarity with the individual being studied.
Hamilton also used mathematics and devised some equations that show how inclusive fitness increases the chance of evolutionary success of a gene. A gene will be shared by many individuals of a family and every individual will pass it on to its offspring thus the gene become fixed if no mutation occurs. Hamilton also claimed that inclusive fitness is a mechanism for the evolution of altruism by allowing the organisms to behave in such a way that makes them favorable for natural selection and hence maximize the inclusive fitness. He explained this mechanism by bringing forward the fact that if there is a gene in a community that helps its individuals to behave in a way that is protective and helpful for the entire community, it would increase the chances of the survival of the community members and hence the gene would also be carried forward by those organisms.
Inclusive fitness example
Two most common organisms providing a clue about how the inclusive fitness model work are- Beldingâ€™s ground squirrel and Synalpheus regalis, a shrimp.
In Beldingâ€™s ground squirrel there is a protective mechanism called alarming which gives out an alarm call to the community to warn against the predators. Doing so, the squirrel who gives out the alarm gets in danger as the predator gets to know its location but all the other members of the community become warned of the danger and hide thus they are saved from the predators. Thus this alarm call trait creates an altruistic environment and gets passed on to the next generations. If the alarm call trait did not exist, the entire community could have been wiped off by the predators hence all the unique genes of the community would have vanished.
In the eusocial shrimps known as Synalpheus regalis also show a mechanism of altruism and inclusive fitness. They commonly live in the sponges in the coral reefs and possess social traits that fit the inclusive fitness criterion. The adults or the larger defenders of the community protect the young population from the outsiders. Thus they ensure that the young individuals survive and pass on the genes to the next generations.
Kin selection theory
Kin selection theory is a theory that is often included in the inclusive fitness model however some people take them to be different. This theory is an evolutionary model that favors the reproductive survival of an organismâ€™s relatives which may come at the cost of the organismâ€™s own survival. This promotes altruistic behavior and hence the theory is also sometimes known as kinâ€™s altruism. Hamilton studied kin selection and proposed two mechanisms. The first one involves kin recognition which allows any individual to recognize its relatives and the second mechanism was for viscous populations which means the population in which the movement of organisms from their origin is slow and kin recognition is difficult. In such cases, nurture kinship develops where the organisms living together act as kins and undergo kin selection.
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