Social evolution

How can the stunning diversity of social systems and behaviours seen in nature be explained? What are the fundamental principles of social evolution underlying this phenomenal richness? To succeed in the competition for resources, organisms may either ‘race’ to be quicker than others, ‘fight’ for privileged access, or ‘share’ their efforts and gains. Both the ecology and intrinsic attributes of organisms select for each of these strategies, and a mere handful of straightforward concepts can explain the evolution of successful decision rules in behavioural interactions. Together with Mike Cant (University of Exeter) and Jan Komdeur (University of Groningen) we have summarized the present knowledge and understanding of general evolutionary principles underlying social behaviour and organization. With a broad focus ranging from microorganisms to humans, our book aims at providing a comprehensive account of the evolution of sociality by natural selection.


‘Taborsky and his colleagues have worked hard to achieve an authoritative, theoretically sound and necessary updating of an important field of biology.’
Richard Dawkins, University of Oxford, UK

‘This is an exceptional book, well worth holding onto, if only for the synthesis of its chosen topic, the evolution of social behaviour in her many dimensions. Also captivating and compelling throughout.’
Robert Trivers, Jamaica and USA

‘Taborsky, Cant and Komdeur’s assessment of progress in the theory, experiments and naturalistic observation of social behaviour is novel, authoritative, lively and provocative. This will be a go-to reference for years.’
Richard Wrangham, Harvard University, USA

‘The fruitful interplay between social theory and field studies, which forms the central theme of this wonderful book, will be inspirational to new students and experienced researchers alike.’
Nick Davies, University of Cambridge, UK

'Grounded in evolutionary theory and buttressed with empirical examples from the authors' own work in insects, fish, birds, and mammals, this book synthesizes decades  of research on cooperation and conflict into a novel yet surprisingly simple framework for predicting how animals cope with competition. Arguing that individuals can succeed in resource competition by 'racing' others, 'fighting' for exclusive access, or 'sharing' both the trials and rewards, Michael Taborsky, Michael Cant, and Jan Komdeur have successfully crossed taxonomic and disciplinary boundaries to outline the fundamental principles governing social evolution. This book is a must-read for anyone fascinated by the diversity of social life on earth, from microbes to humans and everything in between, and who wants to understand why social systems and behaviours have evolved.'
Dustin R. Rubenstein, Columbia University, USA

'This masterful treatment of animal behavior takes the perspective that interactions can be divided into racing for goods, fighting to monopolize them, or cooperatively sharing resources. With a focus on animals and easily observable behavioral decisions, Taborsky, Cant, and Komdeur also show how conflicts can be resolved and when cooperation evolves, with or without high relatedness. The theory is firmly grounded in empirical observations. The book covers everything from competition for food, shelter, or mates to the role of ecological clumping of resources, the importance of learning, sexual conflict,  competition within cooperative groups, and between-species interactions.  Each chapter ends with a case study applying the theory and concepts of the chapter to a specific organism. The book is a must read for students of behavior or evolution at all levels.’
Joan E. Strassmann, Washington University in St. Louis, USA

‘Breaking taxonomic boundaries and providing a smooth passage between theory, experiment and observation, Taborsky, Cant, and Komdeur adroitly guide the reader  through the fascinating world of social behaviour, to reveal the unifying logic of social evolution - natural selection's balancing act to harness the opposing forces of cooperation and conflict. This book is unique in that you can begin anywhere and read in any order; better still, do it differently each time and gain a new perspective.’
Raghavendra Gadagkar, Indian Institute of Science

‘A comprehensive and authoritative survey of the evolution of animal social behaviour that explains how conflict and cooperation interact to generate the astonishing diversity of animal societies.’
Tim Clutton-Brock, University of Cambridge, UK

'How do we explain the amazing variation in social behaviors and association patterns of group-living species, including bacteria, insects and mammals? When does it pay off to cooperate, and when to escalate a fight? Three grandmasters in the field of social evolution have teamed up to provide us with a brilliant survey of the state of the art. Combining an introduction of key concepts with selected case-studies, they show how the combination of theoretical modelling with empirical research fuels progress in the field of social evolution. They also make an excellent case for the importance of field studies. A must-read for all students and scholars interested in the riddles of social evolution.’
Julia Fischer, German Primate Center and University of Göttingen, Germany


Link to website: Michael Taborsky

Sample publications:

Quiñones, A.E., van Doorn, S., Pen, I., Weissing, F.J., Taborsky, M. (2016): Negotiation and appeasement can be more effective drivers of sociality than kin selection. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B, 371: 20150089 [PDF]

Taborsky, M., Frommen, J.G., Riehl C. (2016): Correlated pay-offs are key to cooperation. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B, 371: 20150084 [PDF]

Van Doorn G.S. & Taborsky M. (2012): The evolution of generalized reciprocity on social interaction networks. Evolution 66:651-664 [PDF]

Barta Z., McNamara J.M., Huszár D.B. & Taborsky M. (2011): Cooperation among non-relatives evolves by state-dependent generalized reciprocity. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 278:843-848 [PDF]

Hochberg M.E., Rankin D.J. & Taborsky M. (2008): The coevolution of cooperation and dispersal in social groups and its implications for the emergence of multicellularity. BMC Evol. Biol. 8:238 [PDF]