Members of many animal communities improve the survival of the group by self-sacrificing time, energy, and resources.
"Helena Cronin, codirector of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, has a new approach to Darwinism: Only the altruistic survive. Smart evolution, Cronin says, involves self-sacrifice to aid the greater cause. Darwin himself recorded numerous examples of animals giving up their time, their food, their mates, and even their lives to help others in the population. By applying these principles to the economy, Cronin says, we can evolve to new heights. Cronin suggests stressing cooperation, putting renewed emphasis on policy, and understanding that competition is to be approached not as mortal combat, but as a display--similar to lekking behavior exhibited by male grouse." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
"White-fronted African bee eaters will face spitting cobras, forage tirelessly for bees and delay having their own young--all to help close relatives raise a clutch of baby birds. Why would any bird engage in such magnanimous behavior? Years of direct observation have led two scientists to suggest this altruism is an inherited trait that gives the "helper" bird's family a survival edge in the harsh African savannah.
"Helper birds postpone opportunities to breed in order to help family members," says Cornell University biologist Stephen T. Emlen. But the behavior is genetically "selfish" because it helps young relatives survive, thereby perpetuating the family's genes, Emlen says...Emlen and Wrege believe African bee eaters provide evidence for the evolution of helping behavior even among birds that gain no direct personal benefits from their action. Other researchers have suggested that some bird species do benefit directly by helping another couple raise a family. For example, they note, young helper birds may gain experience that boosts their chance of successfully raising offspring of their own later on. In bee eaters, however, a comparison of first-time breeders with and without prior helping experience showed that this factor had no effect on the number of young produced, report Emlen and Wrege." (Fackelmann 1989)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Emlem S.T.; Wrege, P.H. 1988. The role of kinship in helping decisions among white-fronted bee-eaters. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 23(5): 305-315.
Fackelmann, Kathy A. Avian altruism: African birds sacrifice self-interest to help their kin - white-fronted bee eaters.
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