The robustness of the weak selection approximation for the evolution of altruism against strong selection


  • Correction added on 28th August 2014, after first online publication: typographical errors in copyright line corrected.


The weak selection approximation of population genetics has made possible the analysis of social evolution under a considerable variety of biological scenarios. Despite its extensive usage, the accuracy of weak selection in predicting the emergence of altruism under limited dispersal when selection intensity increases remains unclear. Here, we derive the condition for the spread of an altruistic mutant in the infinite island model of dispersal under a Moran reproductive process and arbitrary strength of selection. The simplicity of the model allows us to compare weak and strong selection regimes analytically. Our results demonstrate that the weak selection approximation is robust to moderate increases in selection intensity and therefore provides a good approximation to understand the invasion of altruism in spatially structured population. In particular, we find that the weak selection approximation is excellent even if selection is very strong, when either migration is much stronger than selection or when patches are large. Importantly, we emphasize that the weak selection approximation provides the ideal condition for the invasion of altruism, and increasing selection intensity will impede the emergence of altruism. We discuss that this should also hold for more complicated life cycles and for culturally transmitted altruism. Using the weak selection approximation is therefore unlikely to miss out on any demographic scenario that lead to the evolution of altruism under limited dispersal.