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Are you my mother Review of Kin Recognition in Animals edited by D.J.C. Fletcher and C.D. Michener. New York John Wiley & Sons 1987 465 pp $77

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American Journal of Primatology 18:11%115 (1989)
Are You My Mother?
Review of Kin Recognition in Animals, edited by D.J.C. Fletcher and C.D. Michener. New
York, John Wiley & Sons, 1987,465 pp, $77.95,cloth.
In the past decade, kin recognition has become a major focus of research in
behavioral ecology, and has been demonstrated in a remarkable range of animals,
from sea anemones to primates. Defined as the ability to differentiate between
genetically related and unrelated conspecifics, kin recognition makes possible two
forms of discriminatory behavior: inbreeding avoidance, and biasing of helpful acts
(or restraint of harmful ones) to the benefit of relatives. Interest in the latter stems
from W.D. Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness, or kin selection, according to
which organisms that assist reproduction by relatives can (under appropriate conditions) effect a net increase in the frequency of the genes shared with those
relatives, including the genes expressed in helping behavior.
This volume, the first solely on the subject of animal kin recognition, begins
with four introductory chapters on basic concepts, terminology, experimental
methodology and genetic models and then turns to a survey of recognition in
invertebrates (four chapters on Drosophila, isopods, and social insects), vertebrates
excluding primates (two chapters dealing principally with tadpoles and rodents),
nonhuman primates, and humans (one chapter each), with a concluding chapter by
Hamilton. (The clonal marine invertebrates are omitted; for an excellent treatment of these, see Grosberg [19881.) The book will be invaluable for the novice
seeking entry into the literature, and practitioners will find it useful to have all of
this material in one reference. The recent explosion of research on kin recognition
is thoroughly covered, no mean accomplishment considering the number and diversity of studies. Several chapters, particularly those on social insects and nonprimate vertebrates, emphasize potential ecological correlates of recognition systems,
a welcome comparative perspective that is now becoming possible through the
accumulation of data on increasing numbers of species. It is also good to see a
desire for some evidence of selective advantage beginning to replace the certainly
invalid assumption that all experimentally demonstrable discrimination is necessarily adaptive.
On the whole, though, I found the book rather disappointingly heterogeneous,
a missed opportunity for synthesis that would have been very timely for this
rapidly growing but still nascent field. No attempt has been made (via editorial
intervention, unifying introductions to individual chapters, or allowing authors to
respond to one another) to integrate the material into a coherent whole. This
results not only in considerable duplication, but also in some serious inconsistencies that will bewilder those new to the subject (especially primatologists; see
below). The editors remind us that “to evolve directionally there must be variation
[of authorial approaches and opinions] upon which selection can act.” However,
more stringent selection on their part might have enhanced the fitness of the book.
For the most part, authors of the taxonomic surveys restate previously published evidence and insular arguments, presenting little that is unfamiliar. One
0 1989 Alan
R. Liss, Inc.
114 / Carlin
notable exception is Linsenmair’s truly extraordinary work on desert isopods,
much of which has not been published. His studies show how very far one can get
by testing well-thought-out hypotheses in simple yet elegant experiments, and
should be required reading for anyone investigating kin recognition in any organism. Other chapters are reviews, in fields already top-heavy with reviews. The
chapter by Spiess on Drosophila really has little t o do with kin recognition, though
his discussion of the much-debated “rare male mating advantage,” resulting from
a female’s refusal to mate with males resembling the first male that courted her
(irrespective of her relatedness to him), is certainly interesting.
Readers of this journal who may be tempted to skip directly to Walters’s chapter on primates should be warned that it is strongly at variance with the rest of the
book. This is to some extent appropriate, given that primates can clearly recognize
individuals, rather than kinship classes (as invertebrates are presumed to do), and
that within their complex social organizations primates obtain benefits via helping
familiar nonkin as well as kin (e.g., alliance formation, or experience gained
through allomothering). The parts of his chapter describing contexts in which
various primate species may discriminate relatives from nonrelatives are quite
informative. However, in speculating on mechanisms, Walters appropriates widely
used terms in ways that are often confusing or incorrect. Detailed expatiation on
jargon would be inappropriate in a book review (for correct definitions, see the
introductory chapters), but let me note that he restricts phenotype matching to
self-matching, equates recognition alleles with alleles determining phenotypic labels, and suggests that an individual’s mother can act as a “reference” so that one
subsequently recognizes others with which she interacts as kin (rather than others
which resemble her). The editors should not have permitted these usages to pass
without some comment.
Surprisingly, Wells’s intriguing chapter on humans is more conceptually consonant with the treatment of other animals than that of nonhuman primates.
While primatologists have been oddly uninterested in experimental studies of kin
recognition (in spite of its potential role in such phenomena as incest avoidance
and infanticide), psychologists have extensively documented human abilities to
discriminate phenotypic characteristics covarying with kinship, particularly in the
context of mother-offspring recognition. In addition, of course, we have the linguistic concept of kinship. Yet the Ye’kwana Indians of Venezuela make finer
behavioral discriminations of relatedness than should be possible given their kinship terminology. The book concludes with a remarkable rumination on kin recognition and human social evolution, past and future, by Hamilton. He wonders
whether our previous reluctance to entertain the possibility of kin recognition in
animals reflects uneasy suppression of such behavior in ourselves, and proceeds to
consider the reduced benefits of nepotism in diverse human economies. This chapter is a sort of companion piece to Hamilton’s (1987) speculation on our species’
eventual conquest of disease and loss of sexual reproduction. These two papers are
literally indescribable; you have to read them.
Norman F. Carlin
Museum of Comparative Zoology Laboratories
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Are You My Mother? I 115
Grosberg, R. K. The evolution of allorecognition specificity in clonal invertebrates.
377-412, 1988.
Hamilton, W. D. Kinship, recognition, disease, and intelligence: constraints of social
evolution. Pp.81-102 in ANIMAL SOCIEITIES: THEORIES AND FACTS. Y. Ito, J.
Brown and J. Kikhawa, eds. Tokyo, Japan
Science Society Press, 1987.
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recognition, sons, 1987, new, john, york, fletcher, 465, kin, animals, mother, edited, michener, review, wiley
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