A new study of side-blotched lizards in California has revealed the genetic underpinnings of altruistic behavior in this common lizard species, providing new insights into the long-standing puzzle of how cooperation and altruism can evolve. The study, led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers the first evidence in vertebrates of an important theoretical concept in evolutionary biology known as "greenbeard" altruism.
"This reflects a major breakthrough in our understanding of how cooperative behavior arises from genes," said Barry Sinervo, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC and first author of a paper describing the new findings. The paper will be published in the May 9 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is currently available in the online early edition of PNAS.
The paper describes unrelated male lizards that form cooperative partnerships to protect their territories. These partnerships are often mutually beneficial, enabling both partners to father more offspring than they would on their own. Under some circumstances, however, one male in the pair may have few or no offspring as a result of protecting its partner from the aggressive intrusions of other lizards.
Tim Stephens | EurekAlert!
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