Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Adaptation is conventionally regarded as occurring at the level of the individual organism. However, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the possibility for group adaptations and superorganisms. Here, we provide the first formal theory of group adaptation. In particular: (1) we clarify the distinction between group selection and group adaptation, framing the former in terms of gene frequency change and the latter in terms of optimization; (2) we capture the superorganism in the form of a 'group as maximizing agent' analogy that links an optimization program to a model of a group-structured population; (3) we demonstrate that between-group selection can lead to group adaptation, but only in rather special circumstances; (4) we provide formal support for the view that between-group selection is the best definition for 'group selection'; and (5) we reveal that mechanisms of conflict resolution such as policing cannot be regarded as group adaptations.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





659 - 671


Adaptation, Biological, Animals, Genetics, Population, Interpersonal Relations, Models, Biological, Selection, Genetic