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Asprey Lecture in Mathematics

Professor Martin Nowak from Harvard University will give two lectures, both are open to the public:

General Lecture, Thursday April 4, 2013 at 5pm, Rockefeller Hall 300.  A reception will be held prior to the lecture outside Rockefeller Hall 300.

Title:  Evolution of cooperation

Abstract: Cooperation implies that one individual pays a cost for another to receive a benefit. Cooperation is often at variance with natural selection. Why should we help competitors? Yet cooperation is abundant in nature and an important component of all human endeavors. Cooperation can be seen as the master architect of evolution, as the third fundamental principle of evolution beside mutation and selection. I will present five mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation: direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, spatial selection, group selection and kin selection. Direct reciprocity means there are repeated interactions between the same two individuals and my behavior towards you depends on what you have done to me. Indirect reciprocity means there are repeated interactions within a group and my behavior towards you also depends on what you have done to others. Indirect reciprocity is the key mechanism for understanding pro-social behavior in humans and has provided the right selection pressure for the emergence of social intelligence and human language. Cooperation on a global scale is needed for the stability of intelligent life on earth.

Lecture, Friday April 5, 2013 at 3pm, Rockefeller Hall 300.  A reception will be held prior to the lecture outside Rockefeller Hall 300.

Title: Evolution of eusociality

Abstract:  Eusociality is an advanced form of social organization, where some individuals reduce their reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others. Eusociality is rare but hugely successful: only about 2% of insect species are eusocial but they represent 50% of the insect biomass. The biomass of ants alone exceeds that of all terrestrial non-human vertebrates combined. I will present a simple model for the origin of eusociality. In the solitary life style all offspring leave to reproduce. In the primitively eusocial life style some offspring stay and help raise further offspring. A standard natural selection equation determines which of those two reproductive strategies wins for a given ecology. The model makes simple and testable predictions without any need to evoke inclusive fitness theory.  I will discuss the limitations of inclusive fitness showing that it is a particular accounting method that works in special cases, but not in general. Moreover, inclusive fitness is not needed to explain any phenomenon in evolutionary biology. Once evolutionary dynamics have been properly calculated on the correct level of selection, every effect of population structure (relatedness) is included. The attempt to provide evolutionary explanations based on inclusive fitness is a conceptual mistake.