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Competition between species curbs selfishness?


Animals are in constant competition over procreative resources. The interests of the individual and the population are not necessarily one and the same; aggressive insects may fare well in the mating competition, but eventually the proliferation of aggressive genes will weaken the procreative efficiency of the species.

Species differ, however, in how co-operative or selfish they are. Hanna Kokko, Professor of Animal Ecology, at the University of Helsinki, says that, for example, the Australian white-winged chough survive in arid areas by feeding their nestlings collaboratively.

Kokko says it is possible that the ways conflicts are solved effect the survival of species. It has been suggested based on North American bird counts, for example, that colourful species, which probably compete more aggressively over females, become locally extinct more often than others.

“New mathematical simulations support this,” Kokko says. “If the selfish fight within a species weakens the competitiveness of a population in the competition between species over resources, the ecosystem will eventually balance itself.” This way, evolution will not lead to the accumulation of characteristics that are the most selfish and detrimental to a species.”

“Conflicts within existing species are perhaps milder than imaginable. This opens an opportunity for the evolution of co-operation. If competition between species really limits the proliferation of selfish genes, species that are more common or widely spread should be less selfish than rare species.

Hanna Kokko talked about co-operation, collisions of interests and conflicts in her inaugural lecture on 8 December 2004.

Hanna Kokko | alfa
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