Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Altruism in Animals Varies Based on Environment


Scientists have long witnessed altruism in the animal kingdom, but a new study finds not all acts of altruism are alike. The mathematical model shows how the environment can favor one type of altruism over another, be it among elephants caring for young or bees defending their nest.

The model predicts that creatures will help each other in different ways depending on whether key resources such as food and habitat are scarce or abundant, say researchers from Indiana University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Examples of creatures caring for others at the expense of themselves are well-known. Ants, bees, and some birds will help their relatives raise kids rather than raise kids of their own. Even the simplest of social creatures, such as single-celled bacteria and slime molds and other microbes, sometimes sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of their group.

Most mathematical models of how cooperation comes to be assume that all forms of altruism provide similar perks. But the benefits of altruism are different for different behaviors, said study author Michael Wade, a professor at Indiana University and a visiting scholar at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

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