Group adaptation, formal darwinism and contextual analysis

Journal of Evolutionary Biology 25 (6):1127–1139 (2012)
We consider the question: under what circumstances can the concept of adaptation be applied to groups, rather than individuals? Gardner and Grafen (2009, J. Evol. Biol.22: 659–671) develop a novel approach to this question, building on Grafen's ‘formal Darwinism’ project, which defines adaptation in terms of links between evolutionary dynamics and optimization. They conclude that only clonal groups, and to a lesser extent groups in which reproductive competition is repressed, can be considered as adaptive units. We re-examine the conditions under which the selection–optimization links hold at the group level. We focus on an important distinction between two ways of understanding the links, which have different implications regarding group adaptationism. We show how the formal Darwinism approach can be reconciled with G.C. Williams’ famous analysis of group adaptation, and we consider the relationships between group adaptation, the Price equation approach to multi-level selection, and the alternative approach based on contextual analysis.
Keywords adaptation  superorganism  group adaptation  Price's equation  optimality  contextual analysis  formal darwinism  group selection  G. C. Williams
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