An Assumption about Heredity

Because natural selection cannot produce adaptation unless there is heredity, some assumption, explicit or otherwise, is always present. The nature of this assumption can be important. Fisher (28) assumed that the sex ratio was determined by autosomal genes expressed in the parent, and that mating was random. Hamilton (34) showed that the predicted optima are greatly changed if these assumptions are altered. In particular, he considered the effects of inbreeding, and of genes for meiotic drive. Rosado and Robertson (85), Trivers and Willard (96), and Trivers and Hare (95) have analyzed the effects of genes acting in the children and (in Hymenoptera) in the sterile castes.

It is unusual for the way in which a trait is inherited to have such a crucial effect. Thus in models of mammalian gaits no explicit assumption is made; the implicit assumption is merely that like begets like. The same is true of models of foraging, although in this case ''heredity'' can be cultural as well as genetic—e.g. (72), for the feeding behavior of oyster-catchers.

The question of how optimization models can be tested is the main topic of the next three sections. A few preliminary remarks are needed. Clearly, the first requirement of a model is that the conclusions should follow from the assumptions. This seems not to be the case, for example, for Zahavi's (102) theory of sexual selection (61). A more usual difficulty is that the conclusions depend on unstated assumptions. For example, Fisher does not state that his sex ratio argument assumes random mating, and this was not noticed until Hamilton's 1967 paper (34). Maynard Smith and Price (65) do not state that the idea of an ESS (evolutionary stable strategy) assumes asexual inheritance. It is probably true that no model ever states all its assumptions explicitly. One reason for writing this review is to encourage authors to become more aware of their assumptions.

A particular model can be tested either by a direct test of its assumptions or by comparing its predictions with observation. The essential point is that in testing a model we are testing not the general proposition that nature optimizes, but the specific hypotheses about constraints, optimization criteria, and heredity. Usually we test whether we have correctly identified the selective forces responsible for the trait in question. But we should not forget hypotheses about constraints or heredity. For example, the weakest feature of theories concerning the sex ratio is that there is little evidence for the existence of genetic variance of the kind assumed by Fisher—for references, see (63). It may be for this reason that the greatest successes of sex ratio theory (34, 95) have concerned Hymenoptera, in which it is easy to see how genes in the female parent can affect the sex of her children.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment