Social evolution and genetic interactions in the short and long term

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41 Scopus citations


The evolution of social traits remains one of the most fascinating and feisty topics in evolutionary biology even after half a century of theoretical research. W.D. Hamilton shaped much of the field initially with his 1964 papers that laid out the foundation for understanding the effect of genetic relatedness on the evolution of social behavior. Early theoretical investigations revealed two critical assumptions required for Hamilton's rule to hold in dynamical models: weak selection and additive genetic interactions. However, only recently have analytical approaches from population genetics and evolutionary game theory developed sufficiently so that social evolution can be studied under the joint action of selection, mutation, and genetic drift. We review how these approaches suggest two timescales for evolution under weak mutation: (i) a short-term timescale where evolution occurs between a finite set of alleles, and (ii)a long-term timescale where a continuum of alleles are possible and populations evolve continuously from one monomorphic trait to another. We show how Hamilton's rule emerges from the short-term analysis under additivity and how non-additive genetic interactions can be accounted for more generally. This short-term approach reproduces, synthesizes, and generalizes many previous results including the one-third law from evolutionary game theory and risk dominance from economic game theory. Using the long-term approach, we illustrate how trait evolution can be described with a diffusion equation that is a stochastic analogue of the canonical equation of adaptive dynamics. Peaks in the stationary distribution of the diffusion capture classic notions of convergence stability from evolutionary game theory and generally depend on the additive genetic interactions inherent in Hamilton's rule. Surprisingly, the peaks of the long-term stationary distribution can predict the effects of simple kinds of non-additive interactions. Additionally, the peaks capture both weak and strong effects of social payoffs in a manner difficult to replicate with the short-term approach. Together, the results from the short and long-term approaches suggest both how Hamilton's insight may be robust in unexpected ways and how current analytical approaches can expand our understanding of social evolution far beyond Hamilton's original work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-26
Number of pages25
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.V.C. was supported by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) under National Science Foundation grant #EF-0423641 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cooperation
  • Fixation probability
  • Inclusive fitness
  • Island model
  • Stochastic stability
  • Trait substitution sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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