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Hamilton's rule and kin competition: the Kipsigis case

  • Author(s): Mulder, Monique Borgerhoff;
  • et al.

Evolutionary studies of human behavior have emphasized the importance of kin selection in explaining social institutions and fitness outcomes. Our relatives can nevertheless be competitors as well as sources of altruism. This is particularly likely when there is local competition over resources, where conflict can lead to strife among nondispersing relatives, reducing or even negating the effects of relatedness on promoting altruism. Here, I present demographic data on a land-limited human population, utilizing large within-population variation in land ownership to determine the interactions between local resource competition and the benefits of kin in enhancing child survival, a key component of fitness in this population. As predicted, wealth affects the extent of kin altruism, in that paternal relatives (specifically father's brothers) appear to buffer young children from mortality much more effectively in rich than in poor households. This interaction effect is interpreted as evidence that the extent of nepotism among humans depends critically on resource availability. Further unanticipated evidence that maternal kin play a role in buffering children from mortality in situations where paternal kin control few resources speaks to the important role that specific local circumstance plays in shaping kin contributions to child welfare. (C) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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