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Bascompte et al. (2006; also see Thompson, 2006) have produced one of those papers that takes one's breath away at first reading--this one because of its far-reaching implications for the evolution of diversity and stability in networks. Studying the coevolution of mutualistic relationships in communities, these authors show that diversity and stability are a function of asymmetrical associations in which one unit is relatively dependent upon a second while the second is weakly dependent upon the first. Relying upon a relatively straightforward dynamical model, Bascompte and his colleagues demonstrate that the whole network is stabilized by the asymmetries. Assuming that these findings prove to be explanatory at other levels of analysis (e.g., groups, populations), they will have broad implications for interactions and thresholds of response within and between dyads and groups (i.e., permutations and/or "recursions" of interindividual "networks") such as cooperation, altruism, some competitive relations (e.g., reproductive skew) as well as some forms of "social parasitism" and mimicry. According to this paper, "antagonistic" responses (e.g., aggression, force, coercion) appear to follow different rules."
    One implication of this paper for primatologists, including students of humans, is that measurement of asymmetries between and among interacting individuals may be required for robust prediction (and control) of the phenomena of interest. It would seem that a primary goal will be to identify the appropriate level(s) for the assessment of asymmetries (e.g., genetic? whole organism?). Previous work implying that individuals may expend social time and energy "impartially" (e.g., de Waal's work) or that (apparent) "egalitarianism" (e.g., Brachyteles) implies relationship symmetry are suspect.
* Bascompte, J., Jordano, P., & Olesen, J.M. (2006). Asymmetric coevolutionary networks facilitate biodiversity maintenance. Science, 312, 431-433.  [Abstract] [Full paper: PDF format] [Bascompte's publications]
* Thompson, J.N. (2006). Mutualistic webs of species. Science, 312, 372-373. [Full paper]

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2003-2006 Theoretical Primatology Project (TPP)