Friday, February 29, 2008

phylogenetic inertia and cooperative breeding

I spent yesterday evening reading the literature on the extent to which there is phylogenetic inertia (the tendency for related species to have similar traits because they both inherited those traits from the common ancestral population) in cooperative breeding (the habit of having more than two individuals caring for the young).

My general conclusions are:
1. A species whose relatives are cooperative breeders are often cooperative breeders themselves.
2. It is not entirely clear if cooperative breeding itself is phylogenetically conserved in many groups, or if the traits that make it a useful strategy are conserved, leading to the impression of inertia in the evolution of cooperative breeding.
3. Phylogenetists spend a lot of time and ink poodling on about the flaws in each other's methods, but always end by saying that the conclusion about the trait is probably robust to minor variations in the shape of the tree.
4. Cooperative breeding is a blanket term for several different phenomena, and papers that deal with this explicitly are more convincing than those that only pay it lipservice.
5. The data I am already putting together on who provides how much care in 120 primate species could probably also be used for a very useful paper on phylogenetic inertia in cooperative breeding.

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