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Altruism, Cooperation, and Fish

In light of having subjected my cultural anthropology students to a brief discussion about altruism from the perspective of biological anthropology, my students will be amused by this post which describes a McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) study about a species of fish that acts altruistically.

Using a combination of laboratory experiments and underwater field observations in Lake Tanganyika (Zambia), [the researchers] examined how the help provided to [breeder fish]varied by how related the [helper fish] were to the breeders. “While some helpers work or care for young because they are related to the dominant breeders, we also observed that other unrelated helpers work as a kind of rent payment,” says one researcher.

Like in a commune or a kibbutz where non-relatives work together to achieve a common goal, these helper fish donate their time and energy to the group in exchange for the safety of living within the group. In a sense, these tiny African fish take a larger than usual worldview, and continued studies of co-operation in this species and other animals may shed light on the factors promoting co-operation in our own species.

There’s a little more in the post including a link to the article.

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