A Natural History of Families

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Overview

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. 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.

About the Author:
Scott Forbes, Professor of Biology at the University of Winnipeg

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Editorial Reviews

Danny Reviews
I found much of the medical material new. A Natural History of Families is recommended to anyone interested in evolutionary medicine, wanting a better understanding of pregnancy, or after a genetic perspective on family conflicts.
— Danny Yee
Times Literary Supplement - Seamus Sweeney
Forbes's writing is lively. . . . He explains evolutionary theory lucidly and well. . . . Forbes is good at explaining the subtlety and frequent counter-intuitiveness of current thinking on these topics.
Biologist - Nicola Vollenhoven
This is certainly worth reading if this is an area that you are interested in. Forbes obviously knows his subject.
Danny Reviews - Danny Yee
I found much of the medical material new. A Natural History of Families is recommended to anyone interested in evolutionary medicine, wanting a better understanding of pregnancy, or after a genetic perspective on family conflicts.
Times Literary Supplement
Forbes's writing is lively. . . . He explains evolutionary theory lucidly and well. . . . Forbes is good at explaining the subtlety and frequent counter-intuitiveness of current thinking on these topics.
— Seamus Sweeney
Biology Digest
This absorbing read is an entertaining but sober addition to the library of anyone who is interested in family conflict and the natural world.
Choice
All will welcome [this book] as an interesting, well-researched, extraordinarily well-written, and occasionally humorous work in behavioral ecology.
Biologist
This is certainly worth reading if this is an area that you are interested in. Forbes obviously knows his subject.
— Nicola Vollenhoven
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005

"Forbes's writing is lively. . . . He explains evolutionary theory lucidly and well. . . . Forbes is good at explaining the subtlety and frequent counter-intuitiveness of current thinking on these topics."—Seamus Sweeney, Times Literary Supplement

"This absorbing read is an entertaining but sober addition to the library of anyone who is interested in family conflict and the natural world."Biology Digest

"All will welcome [this book] as an interesting, well-researched, extraordinarily well-written, and occasionally humorous work in behavioral ecology."Choice

"This is certainly worth reading if this is an area that you are interested in. Forbes obviously knows his subject."—Nicola Vollenhoven, Biologist

"I found much of the medical material new. A Natural History of Families is recommended to anyone interested in evolutionary medicine, wanting a better understanding of pregnancy, or after a genetic perspective on family conflicts."—Danny Yee, Danny Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691130354
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/2/2007
  • Edition description: New
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents


Preface     xi
Blame Parents     1
Do the Good Die Young?     3
The Family Myth     5
The Optimistic Parent     9
The Evolution of Family Size     9
The Puzzle of Obligate Brood Reduction     10
How Many Babies?     11
Avian Families     16
Core and Marginal Offspring     16
Asymmetric Sibling Rivalry Creates Disposable Offspring     18
The Evolution of Family Structure     19
What Is Parental Optimism?     21
Why Parental Optimism?     23
Tracking Erratic Resources     23
Replacement     27
Facilitation     28
Multiple Incentives for Parental Optimism     29
Are Humans Optimistic Parents?     31
Why Parents Play Favorites     32
Mom Always Liked You Best     32
The Fivefold Advantage of Favoritism     33
The Benefits and Costs of Unequal Parental Investment     34
Divestment of Unneeded Offspring     36
Benefits of Diversification     39
Correcting Earlier Decisions     41
Bet Hedging and Brood Reduction     41
How Parents Play Favorites     43
What Is a Phenotypic Handicap?     43
How Birds Play Favorites     44
Primary Versus Secondary Handicaps     44
How Blackbirds Play Favorites     45
Reversible Handicaps     46
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
Birth Order and favoritism     53
Family Conflict     55
Genetic Conflict between Parents and Offspring     55
Parent-Offspring Conflict     57
Pregnancy and Parent-Offspring Conflict     58
Natural-Born Cancers     60
Imprinted Genes in Humans     62
Genetic Conflict and Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome     64
Parent-Offspring Conflict over Embryo Growth     64
Imprinting and Gestational Diabetes     65
Pregnancy Sickness and Genetic Conflict     66
HCG: The Hormone of Pregnancy Sickness?     68
Evolution of Chorionic Gonadotropins in Primates     70
Chorionic Gonadotropins and Miscarriage     70
Selfishness Unconstrained     78
Brood Parasitic Birds     79
Old World Cuckoos     79
...and New World Cowbirds     80
Cowbird Mafia?     80
Cuckoo Catfish     81
The Origins of Brood Parasitism     81
Adopting Runaways?     82
Forced Adoption of Nonkin     83
Voluntary Adoption of Nonkin     85
The Lesson of Brood Parasitism     86
Screening for Offspring Quality     87
The Logic of Progeny Choice     87
Sequential versus Simultaneous Progeny Choice     88
Progeny Choice in Humans     89
Adaptive Miscarriage     90
Chromosomal Defects in Humans     91
Sex Chromosomes and Birth Defects     94
Turner's Syndrome and Genomic Imprinting     96
Birth Defects and Maternal Age     96
Rejecting Low-Quality Embryos     97
HCG and Adaptive Miscarriage     98
Relaxed Screening in Older Mothers?     100
Why Relaxed Selection?     103
Why More Spontaneous Abortions in Older Mothers?     104
The Origin of Genetic Defects     105
The Shadow of Menopause     105
Screening, Maternal Age, and the Role of Genomic Imprinting      106
Maternal Age and Twinning     108
Why Twins?     109
The Evolution of Brood and Family Size     109
Fault-Tolerant Design in Humans     111
Twinning as an Insurance Strategy     112
Insurance Offspring in Birds     113
In Vitro Fertilization and Twinning     114
Age, Trisomy 21, and Twinning     117
More Than Just Polyovulation     118
Twinning and Individual Optimization     121
Fit or Fat?     124
A Womb for Two     126
Natural Selection on Twinning Frequency     126
Brood Reduction before Birth?     127
Fatal Sibling Rivalry     129
Siblicide     129
Desperado Siblings Result from Extreme Favoritism     132
The Good and the Best     133
Facultative Versus Obligate Brood Reduction     135
Ultraselfish Alleles     137
Human Twins     139
"Biological" Influences     144
Family Harmony     147
Cooperation in Families     147
The Arthur Dent Effect     148
Why Cooperation?     148
The Road to Cooperation     150
Parental Optimism and the Evolution of Cooperation     151
Polyembryony and New Roles for Marginal Offspring     152
Parasitoid Wasps     153
Adaptive Suicide?     154
The Benefits of Teamwork     156
Social Insects: The Ultimate Team Players     157
Trophic Offspring     160
Sibling Synergies in Birds and Mammals     160
Conflict When Necessary, but Not Necessarily Conflict     162
Cooperative Defense...against Parents?     166
Facilitation in Humans?     167
Finding Their Niche: Birth Order and Human Behavior     168
Cannibalism and Infanticide     171
The Pathways to Cannibalism     171
Honey, I Ate the Kids     171
Offspring Designed to be Eaten     174
The Pathways to Infanticide     175
Sexually Selected Infanticide     175
Killer Rodents     176
Infanticide in Families     178
The Unwilling Parent?     178
Brave New Worlds     182
Artificial Parental Optimism and Infanticide     184
An Epidemic of Multiple Births     185
Risks of Multiple Gestation     186
The Ghost in the Machine     187
Embryo Reduction     188
Artificial Progeny Choice     189
Refining Artificial Progeny Choice     190
Does Assisted Reproduction Cause Low-Quality Progeny?     191
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
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