Survival Strategies: Cooperation and Conflict in Animal Societies

Raghavendra Gadagkar
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
1997, pp. 196, Paperback
Price: $17.95, ISBN 0-674-00557-0


The classic expression "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" represents the major theme to this great book by Raghavendra Gadagkar. By using simple language, Gadagkar explores animal behavior (or ethology) from the standpoint of evolution in a very objective fashion.

The book is divided into 10 chapters in which ethological concepts such as selfishness, altruism, and nepotism are explained using numerous examples from a variety of animal groups ranging from protozoa to primates. Chapter 1 contrasts social versus solitary animals giving several examples, and explains the conflict encountered by evolutionist and physiologist in trying to explain animal survival strategies such as bird migration. Chapter 2 describes how natural selection has shaped the evolution and interaction of animals presenting the classic example (in great detail) of industrial melanism in Biston betularia and also introducing the concept of altruism. Chapters 3-5 detail the evolution of social behavior, cooperation, and altruism acting at the individual level. The author offers numerous examples giving major emphasis to insect societies. Although Gadagkar’s approach to explaining these concepts is to simplify them, his explanations can become repetitive and misleading. Chapter 6 covers the concept of nepotism spending the first part of the chapter discussing how moral (human) nepotism and altruism differ from their "biological" meaning in nature. He attempts to answer many interesting biological questions such as "Why do squirrels give alarm calls?" or "Why do Tasmanian hens have two husbands?" Chapters 7 and 8 cover the concept of cooperation offering numerous examples but, interestingly enough, explaining some of his own work with the primitive wasp Ropalidia marginata from India. Chapter 9 discusses the fine balance between cooperation and conflict in different animal groups. And finally, Chapter 10 gives a powerful conclusion by the author, reconciling the differences between evolutionary and physiological theories in trying to explain animal behavior. Gadagkar explains, "Ignoring the possible physiological explanations and focusing on the evolutionary explanation or vice versa appears to be a legitimate way of avoiding confusion. It is also sometimes inevitable because the training and methodology and quite often the very philosophy of scientific research underlying the physiological and evolutionary explanations may be quite distinct. But the time must come in the development of this field of scientific inquiry when we begin to integrate the physiological and evolutionary explanations. After all, we agree that both explanations are correct at their respective levels. A little reflection should convince us that such integration will eventually become essential for the further pursuit of each of the two levels of inquiry." In the last part of this chapter, the author talks about areas where research advances are expected in the field of animal behavior.

Survival Strategies, in general, is an excellent book for both scientist and science amateurs alike. The author’s attempts to keep scientific language simple seem to keep the reader, for most of the time, interested. In addition, this is a great companion/reference book for evolution, ecology, and entomology students.

Diana Ortiz
Center for Tropical Diseases
and Department of Pathology
University of Texas Medical Branch
301 University Boulevard
Galveston, TX 77555-0609

American Entomologist
Vol. 48, No.1, Spring 2002