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J Evol Biol. 2012 Feb;25(2):227-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02431.x. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Natural selection. III. Selection versus transmission and the levels of selection.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA. safrank@uci.edu

Abstract

George Williams defined an evolutionary unit as hereditary information for which the selection bias between competing units dominates the informational decay caused by imperfect transmission. In this article, I extend Williams' approach to show that the ratio of selection bias to transmission bias provides a unifying framework for diverse biological problems. Specific examples include Haldane and Lande's mutation-selection balance, Eigen's error threshold and quasispecies, Van Valen's clade selection, Price's multilevel formulation of group selection, Szathmáry and Demeter's evolutionary origin of primitive cells, Levin and Bull's short-sighted evolution of HIV virulence, Frank's timescale analysis of microbial metabolism and Maynard Smith and Szathmáry's major transitions in evolution. The insights from these diverse applications lead to a deeper understanding of kin selection, group selection, multilevel evolutionary analysis and the philosophical problems of evolutionary units and individuality.

© 2011 The Author. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2011 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.

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