Genetic Basis for Cooperation

Since we have discussed in previous threads the idea that cooperation and “morality” may have a genetic basis, and are not the result of an outside force, I thought some of you might find this article interesting (selected quotes below): http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/19990909/sc/bird_brothers_2.html

Peacocks Cooperate To Spread Genes
By MATTHEW FORDAHL AP Science Writer

Why do peacocks looking for mates hang out together like buddies at a singles bar, even when many are never lucky enough to find the perfect peahen?

Scientists have long wondered why the unsuccessful peacocks stick around the same group year after year when the hens tend to select the same few males each breeding season.

Research published in the journal Nature suggests an evolutionary reason: Many of the bird buddies within individual groups are brothers. By working together, they increase the odds that their genes will be passed to another generation.

The research sheds light on why some peacocks seem unconcerned with sex and are content to be hangers-on in the animal singles scene: Larger groups of peacocks attract more females, so some of the peacocks are there just to make the group bigger.

``The benefits of helping closely related dominants to attract more females may outweigh the subordinate males’ own meager mating opportunities,’’ said Cornell University researcher Paul Sherman in an accompanying Nature commentary.

In fact, the researchers found that when peacock brothers were separated before hatching and then were released into Whipsnade Park when they were yearlings, the brothers still tended to group together.

The mechanism by which the birds found their relatives is unknown. It could be by odor, feather patterns or the sounds the birds make.

Well, what with all this I’ve read by the great Richard Dawkins, seeing as the brother peacocks are closely related, even if they themselves don’t mate, if their close relatives do, part of their genes get passed on…seeing as they share many genes, as many as they would compared to any future chicks they might have. So, they can either try to hang out in groups to assist their brothers in getting a mate (if they themselves don’t get one), wherein the chicks that would be produced there would share the same amount of genes as the original peacocks grandchicks. If this is kinda confusing, here’s a li’l chart…

Peacock A (brother to B)
Peacock B (brother to A)
Peahen C (mates with A or B)
Peachicks X (chicks of A/C)
Peachicks Y (chicks of B/C)
Peachicks Z (chicks of Y/_)

All related to Peacock A…
If A were to have chicks with C, they’d have X. X shares the same amount of genes with A as does B.
If X mates with something else, it’ll have Z.
If B mates with C, they’d have Y. Y and Z share the same amount of genes with A.

See? Genes control everything…so if they hang out with their brothers, rather than peacock unrelated to themselves, they’ll increase the chances of them having more genes shared by themselves in the future. It’s nothing with niceness or anything. The genes know this is the best way to propagate themselves, so this is what they program the animals to do. Those genes that don’t do that don’t get passed on as much, as the chances for that happening become slimmer, until it’s no longer around.


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