A Natural History of Families

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, 2005 - Science - 231 pages

Why do baby sharks, hyenas, and pelicans kill their siblings? Why do beetles and mice commit infanticide? Why are twins and birth defects more common in older human mothers? A Natural History of Families concisely examines what behavioral ecologists have discovered about family dynamics and what these insights might tell us about human biology and behavior. Scott Forbes's engaging account describes an uneasy union among family members in which rivalry for resources often has dramatic and even fatal consequences.


In nature, parents invest resources and control the allocation of resources among their offspring to perpetuate their genetic lineage. Those families sometimes function as cooperative units, the nepotistic and loving havens we choose to identify with. In the natural world, however, dysfunctional familial behavior is disarmingly commonplace.


While explaining why infanticide, fratricide, and other seemingly antisocial behaviors are necessary, Forbes also uncovers several surprising applications to humans. Here the conflict begins in the moments following conception as embryos struggle to wrest control of pregnancy from the mother, and to wring more nourishment from her than she can spare, thus triggering morning sickness, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Mothers, in return, often spontaneously abort embryos with severe genetic defects, allowing for prenatal quality control of offspring.


Using a broad sweep of entertaining examples culled from the world of animals and humans, A Natural History of Families is a lively introduction to the behavioral ecology of the family.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - waltzmn - LibraryThing

A very difficult book to start -- the first chapter is almost entirely about young birds being killed or left to die by their parents and siblings. And I think it genuinely ignores the benefits that ... Read full review

A natural history of families

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Forbes's repetitive and disorganized treatise is pinned on a fascinating thesis: that observing the family behavior of birds, ants, pandas and a variety of other animal species can help our own ... Read full review

Contents

Blame Parents
1
Do the Good Die Young?
3
The Family Myth
5
The Optimistic Parent
9
How Many Babies?
11
Core and Marginal Offspring
16
The Evolution of Family Structure
19
What Is Parental Optimism?
21
Twinning as an Insurance Strategy
112
Age Trisomy 21 and Twinning
117
More Than Just Polyovulation
118
Twinning and Individual Optimization
121
Fit or Fat?
124
Natural Selection on Twinning Frequency
126
Brood Reduction before Birth?
127
Fatal Sibling Rivalry
129

Why Parental Optimism?
23
Why Parents Play Favorites
32
The Fivefold Advantage of Favoritism
33
How Parents Play Favorites
43
How Birds Play Favorites
44
How Blackbirds Play Favorites
45
How Marsupials Play Favorites
47
Brood Reduction in Rabbits
49
How Plants Play Favorites
50
Different Species Same Idea
51
Humans Play Favorites Too
52
Family Conflict
55
ParentOffspring Conflict
57
Imprinted Genes in Humans
62
Pregnancy Sickness and Genetic Conflict
66
Selfishness Unconstrained
78
Brood Parasitic Birds
79
The Origins of Brood Parasitism
81
Screening for Offspring Quality
87
Sequential versus Simultaneous Progeny Choice
88
Progeny Choice in Humans
89
Adaptive Miscarriage
90
Chromosomal Defects in Humans
91
Birth Defects and Maternal Age
96
The Origin of Genetic Defects
105
Screening Maternal Age and the Role of Genomic Imprinting
106
Maternal Age and Twinning
108
Why Twins?
109
Ultraselfish Alleles
137
Human Twins
139
Biological Influences
144
Family Harmony
147
Why Cooperation?
148
Parental Optimism and the Evolution of Cooperation
151
Adaptive Suicide?
154
The Benefits of Teamwork
156
The Ultimate Team Players
157
Trophic Offspring
160
Conflict When Necessary but Not Necessarily Conflict
162
Cooperative Defense against Parents?
166
Facilitation in Humans?
167
Birth Order and Human Behavior
168
Cannibalism and Infanticide
171
The Pathways to Infanticide
175
Infanticide in Families
178
Brave New Worlds
182
Artificial Parental Optimism and Infanticide
184
Artificial Progeny Choice
189
Refining Artificial Progeny Choice
190
Send in the Clones
192
Parental Optimism and the Law of Unintended Consequences
194
Blame Parents
195
Debunking the Family Myth
197
Selected References
201
Index
229
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Scott Forbes, Professor of Biology at the University of Winnipeg, is a behavioral ecologist whose chief research interest is the evolutionary ecology of families. He has published articles in a wide variety of journals, including Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Ecology, Nature, American Naturalist, and Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

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