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Behav Genet. 2005 Jan;35(1):7-18.

Ontogeny in the family.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 East 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405-3700, USA.


When ontogeny takes place in a family, and parents provide essential resources for development, the parents become an environmental component to the development of a wide range of offspring traits. Because differences among parents may partly reflect genetic variation, this environmental component contains genes and may itself evolve. Also, when offspring play an active role in family interactions, offspring become a social environmental component to parents, affecting their behavior in turn, which potentially results in reciprocal social selection. Thus, an evolutionary process of coadaptation to family life, additionally driven by conflicts of interests, may have shaped the expression and development patterns underlying infant behaviors. The complex genetics arising from family interactions can be formalized by extending standard quantitative genetic models. These models demonstrate how the explicit consideration of the family environment can profoundly alter both the expression and evolutionary response to selection of behaviors involved in family interactions. Behavioral genetic studies have begun to unravel the complex genetics underlying infant solicitation behaviors and parental provisioning, although many focus on one side of the interaction. A genetic analysis incorporating interactions among family members explicitly may be critical because the genes underlying the expression of parental provisioning indirectly affect offspring behaviors, and vice versa.

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