E. O. Wilson has said that “the organism is simply DNA’s way of making more DNA”. Are the elaborate, bizarre, (at times flamboyant), energy requiring social systems of animals simply adaptations which permit those animals to reproduce? Why is there so much diversity among animal social systems? Why are most mammals polygynous and most birds monogamous? Can we make predictions about successful social strategies and test them in the field? Can we gain insight into human evolution by studying the social systems of non-human primates?
In this course we will consider the evolution and adaptedness of different social systems with particular attention to current models of the evolution of altruistic behavior. We will read and discuss current research from a variety of journals (topics include: cooperative breeding, parent-offspring conflict, siblicide, mate choice and sexual selection, sex ratios, hymenoptera social organization, evolution of primate mating systems, the significance of infanticide and maternal rank). Students will undertake their own research projects.