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Empirical data suggest that low levels of promiscuity have played a key role in the evolution of cooperative breeding and eusociality. However, from a theoretical perspective, low levels of promiscuity can favour dispersal away from the natal patch, and have been argued to select against cooperation in a way that cannot be explained by inclusive fitness theory. Here, we use an inclusive fitness approach to model selection to stay and help in a simple patch-structured population, with strict density dependence, where helping increases the survival of the breeder on the patch. Our model predicts that the level of promiscuity has either no influence or a slightly positive influence on selection for helping. This prediction is driven by the fact that, in our model, staying to help leads to increased competition between relatives for the breeding position-when promiscuity is low (and relatedness is high), the best way to aid relatives is by dispersing to avoid competing with them. Furthermore, we found the same results with an individual-based simulation, showing that this is not an area where inclusive fitness theory 'gets it wrong'. We suggest that our predicted influence of promiscuity is sensitive to biological assumptions, and that if a possibly more biologically relevant scenario were examined, where helping provided fecundity benefits and there was not strict density dependence, then low levels of promiscuity would favour helping, as has been observed empirically.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





1405 - 1411


Animals, Biological Evolution, Breeding, Cooperative Behavior, Female, Genetic Fitness, Male, Models, Biological, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Social Behavior