Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of altruistic behaviours. Their relative roles in explaining actual cases of animal altruism are, however, unclear. In particular, while kin selection is widely believed to have a pervasive influence on animal behaviour, reciprocity is generally thought to be rare. Despite this general agreement, there has been no direct test comparing the relative roles of kinship and reciprocity in explaining animal altruism. In this paper, we report on the results of such a test based on a meta-analysis of allogrooming in primates, grooming being probably the most common altruistic behaviour among mammals. In direct contrast to the prevailing view, reciprocity played a much larger role than kinship in explaining primate allogrooming. These results point to a more significant role of reciprocity in the evolution of animal altruism than is generally acknowledged.
Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 45–50