Phil 7.22.18

Modeling relatedness and demography in social evolution

  • With any theoretical model, the modeler must decide what kinds of detail to include and which simplifying assumptions to make. It could be assumed that models that include more detail are better, or more correct. However, no model is a perfect description of reality and the relative advantage of different levels of detail depends on the model’s empirical purpose. We consider the specific case of how relatedness is modeled in the field of social evolution. Different types of model either leave relatedness as an independent parameter (open models), or include detail for how demography and life cycle determine relatedness (closed models). We exploit the social evolution literature, especially work on the evolution of cooperation, to analyze how useful these different approaches have been in explaining the natural world. We find that each approach has been successful in different areas of research, and that more demographic detail is not always the most empirically useful strategy.