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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jun 13;103(24):9113-7. Epub 2006 Jun 2.

The group covariance effect and fitness trade-offs during evolutionary transitions in individuality.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Transforming our understanding of life is the realization that evolution occurs not only among individuals within populations but also through the integration of groups of preexisting individuals into a new higher-level individual, that is, through evolutionary transitions in individuality. During evolutionary transitions (such as during the origin of gene networks, bacteria-like cells, eukaryotic cells, multicellular organisms, and societies), fitness must be reorganized; specifically, it must be transferred from the lower- to the higher-level units and partitioned among the lower-level units that specialize in the fitness components of the new higher-level individual. This paper studies the role of fitness trade-offs in fitness reorganization, the evolution of cooperation, and the conversion of a group into a new individual during the origin of multicellular life. Specifically, this study shows that the fitness of the group is augmented over the average fitness of its members according to a covariance effect. This covariance effect appears to be one of the first emergent properties of the group and a general aspect of groups with multiplicative properties that are themselves averages of properties of lower-level units. The covariance effect allows groups to break through the constraints that govern their members, and this effect likely applies to group dynamics in other fields.

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