Social runaway: fisherian elaboration (or reduction) of socially selected traits via indirect genetic effects

Nathan W. Bailey, Mathias Kölliker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Our understanding of the evolutionary stability of socially‐selected traits is dominated by sexual selection models originating with R. A. Fisher, in which genetic covariance arising through assortative mating can trigger exponential, runaway trait evolution. To examine whether non‐reproductive, socially‐selected traits experience similar dynamics—social runaway—when assortative mating does not automatically generate a covariance, we modelled the evolution of socially‐selected badge and donation phenotypes incorporating indirect genetic effects (IGEs) arising from the social environment. We establish a social runaway criterion based on the interaction coefficient, ψ, which describes social effects on badge and donation traits. Our models make several predictions. (1) IGEs can drive the original evolution of altruistic interactions that depend on receiver badges. (2) Donation traits are more likely to be susceptible to IGEs than badge traits. (3) Runaway dynamics in non‐sexual, social contexts can occur in the absence of a genetic covariance. (4) Traits elaborated by social runaway are more likely to involve reciprocal, but non‐symmetrical, social plasticity. Models incorporating plasticity to the social environment via IGEs illustrate conditions favouring social runaway, describe a mechanism underlying the origins of costly traits such as altruism, and support a fundamental role for phenotypic plasticity in rapid social evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
VolumeEarly View
Early online date17 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jul 2019


  • Altruism
  • Fisher process
  • Parental investment
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Runaway
  • Social selection


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