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Greenbeard genes identify copies of themselves in other individuals and cause their bearer to behave nepotistically toward those individuals. Hence, they can be favored by kin selection, irrespective of the degree of genealogical relationship between social partners. Although greenbeards were initially developed as a thought experiment, a number of recent discoveries of greenbeard alleles in real populations have led to a resurgence of interest in their evolutionary dynamics and consequences. One issue over which there has been disagreement is whether greenbeards lead to intragenomic conflict. Here, to clarify the "outlaw" status of greenbeards, we develop population genetic models that formally examine selection of greenbeard phenotypes under the control of different loci. We find that, in many cases, greenbeards are not outlaws because selection for or against the greenbeard phenotype is the same across all loci. In contrast, when social interactions are between genealogical kin, we find that greenbeards can be outlaws because different genes can be selected in different directions. Hence, the outlaw status of greenbeard genes crucially depends upon the particular biological details. We also clarify whether greenbeards are favored due to direct or indirect fitness effects and address the relationship of the greenbeard effect to sexual antagonism and reciprocity.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2729 - 2742


Alleles, Conflict (Psychology), Genetics, Population, Hierarchy, Social, Models, Genetic, Phenotype, Selection, Genetic, Social Behavior