Is evolution a team sport, or is the contest for survival played out strictly between individuals? There’s no question that natural selection acts on individual organisms: Those with favorable traits are more likely to pass along their genes to the next generation. But perhaps similar processes could operate at other levels of the biological hierarchy. In this way natural selection could perpetuate traits that are favorable not to an individual but to a social unit such as a flock or a colony, or to an entire species, or even to an ecosystem made up of many species. The underlying question is: Can biological traits evolve “for the good of the group”? The process known as group selection was once accepted unthinkingly, then was widely discredited; it’s time for a more discriminating assessment.
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