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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.


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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