Brief Communication Arising

Nature 463, E8-E9 (18 February 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08809; Received 13 August 2009; Accepted 21 December 2009

There is a Brief Communication Arising (18 February 2010) associated with this document.

Multilevel and kin selection in a connected world

Michael J. Wade1, David S. Wilson2, Charles Goodnight3, Doug Taylor4, Yaneer Bar-Yam5, Marcus A. M. de Aguiar5, Blake Stacey5, Justin Werfel5, Guy A. Hoelzer6, Edmund D. Brodie III4, Peter Fields4, Felix Breden7, Timothy A. Linksvayer8, Jeffrey A. Fletcher9, Peter J. Richerson10, James D. Bever1, J. David Van Dyken1 & Peter Zee1

Arising from: G. Wild, A. Gardner & S. A. West Nature 459, 983–986 (2009); Wild, Gardner & West reply

Wild et al. 1 argue that the evolution of reduced virulence can be understood from the perspective of inclusive fitness, obviating the need to evoke group selection as a contributing causal factor. Although they acknowledge the mathematical equivalence of the inclusive fitness and multilevel selection approaches, they conclude that reduced virulence can be viewed entirely as an individual-level adaptation by the parasite1. Here we show that their model is a well-known special case of the more general theory of multilevel selection, and that the cause of reduced virulence resides in the opposition of two processes: within-group and among-group selection. This distinction is important in light of the current controversy among evolutionary biologists in which some continue to affirm that natural selection centres only and always at the level of the individual organism or gene, despite mathematical demonstrations that evolutionary dynamics must be described by selection at various levels in the hierarchy of biological organization.

  1. Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.
  2. State University of New York at Binghamton, Departments of Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton, New York 13902, USA
  3. University of Vermont, Department of Biology, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA
  4. University of Virginia, Department of Biology, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA
  5. New England Complex Systems Institute, 24 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
  6. University of Nevada Reno, Department of Biology, Reno, Nevada 89557, USA
  7. Simon Fraser University, Department of Biological Sciences, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada
  8. University of Copenhagen, Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, Universitetparken 15, Copenhagen DK-2100, Denmark
  9. Portland State University, Systems Science Graduate Program, Portland, Oregon 97207, USA
  10. University of California Davis, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, Davis, California 95616, USA