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multilevel selectionMehrebenenselektion (ger.)

  • Selection processes occurring simultaneously on various levels of selection, e.g. on the level of individuals and groups.

    a comparison of biogeographic and evolutionary patterns and a brief consideration of group selection […] led to a discussion of the evolution of altruism and to further analysis of group and multi-level selection

    Darlington, P.J. (1972). Nonmathematical concepts of selection, evolutionary energy, and levels of evolution. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 69, 1239-1243: 1239.


    a multi-level selection theory need not always return to the lowest genetic level to find principles capable of yielding a dynamics for higher-level selection processes.

    Wimsatt, W.C. (1980). The units of selection and the structure of the multi-level genome. Philosophy of Science Association 1980, vol. 2, 122-183: 124.


    cases of simultaneous multi-level selection raise complications for the notion of adaptedness.

    Brandon, R. (1982). The levels of selection. Philosophy of Science Association 1982, vol. 1, 315-323: 320.


    Hull (27) listed as one of three outstanding problems in evolutionary biology the status of various models of multilevel selection

    Eldredge, N. (1986). Information, economics, and evolution. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 17, 351-369: 356. 


    A multilevel-selection situation is one in which we simultaneously consider selection acting among entities at two or more levels ina hierarchically structured population. We find it useful to distinguish between two approaches to the study of multilevel selection […] Multilevel selection 1 considers the existence of effects of group membership on individual fitness. From a multilevel-selection-1 point of view, “multilevel selection” is said to occur whenever an individual’s expected viability, mating success, and/or fertility cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of that individual’s phenotype, but rather additional information is required about properties of the group or groups of which the individual is a member. This definition of multilevel selection is appropriate for cases in which the investigator is interested in the evolution of phenotypic characters of individuals. Notice that the definition does not require that groups have differential probabilities of giving rise to new groups or of becoming extinct, though such processes may contribute to group-level effects on individual fitnesses. The important feature of multilevel selection 1 is that the level of interest is the individual, but the success of individuals may be influenced by differences among the groups in which they are arrayed. It is worth noting that a multilevel-selection-I view characterizes most theoretical work on group selection, including not only models that explicitly include differential extinction of entire groups (e.g., Levins 1970) but also models that do not, such as those of Wright (1945) and Wilson (1975).

    Multilevel-selection 2 differs from multilevel selection 1 in that the level of interest is the group itself. One wishes to know whether there are characters of groups that affect their probabilities of persisting or of founding new groups. These probabilities define for groups a higher-level “fitness” that is a different kind of property than is the mean fitness of a group’s individuals. From the perspective of multilevel selection 2, multilevel selection is said to occur whenever any group properties co-vary with this group-level fitness, implying that the proportions of different kinds of groups will change in the population (and noting that group characters may change as a result of lower-level selection among the individuals that the groups comprise).

    Heisler, I.L. & Damuth, J. (1987). A method for analyzing selection in hierarchically structured populations. Amer. Nat. 130, 582-602: 583; 584.