Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Lee Alan Dugatkin's "Power in the Wild"

Lee Alan Dugatkin is an animal behaviorist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science in the Department of Biology at the University of Louisville. He is the author of more than one hundred and fifty papers and the author or coauthor of many books, including The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness.

Dugatkin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Power in the Wild: The Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Ways Animals Strive for Control over Others, and reported the following:
Hat’s off to Ford Madox Ford, inspiration for the Page 99 Test. As far, as my book, Power in the Wild: The Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Ways Animals Strive for Control over Others, I’d give the Page 99 Test a B+. Page 99 captures one important aspect of power dynamics in nonhumans. It takes us to the cliffsides of Gilgil, Kenya, with researcher Stephen Emlen, as he peers into the private lives, and power struggles of the white-fronted bee-eater (Merops bullockoides). Why, oh why, Emlen wondered, were white-fronted bee-eater fathers exerting their power over their sons and suppressing their lads’ reproductive success? And why weren’t sons mounting a more vigorous attempt to stop them? Emlen knew, indeed, he had been a pioneer in showing that, natural selection favors helping genetic relatives, particularly close relatives like offspring, not impeding their reproductive success. But on those cliffsides, white-fronted bee-eater fathers repeatedly chased their sons, interfered with their courtship, blocked access to their nests and more, and their sons mounted little resistance. After a deeper dive into the data, Emlen pieced together an answer. In the end, fathers who use their power thusly end up with more grandoffspring. For the sons, the victims of this power play, calculations are different: dad is bigger and more experienced, and so if a son fights back, he might get injured. But even putting that aside, if a son stays at his own nest and breeds, he may produce offspring; if he returns to help his father, his help will almost certainly result in the survival of his siblings that would not have survived otherwise. A bit of genetic accounting shows sons lose little by staying home a bit longer should their fathers use their power to press that point.

Page 99 captures this aspect of power, but it misses many others that pepper the pages of Power in the Wild. Watching power play out in nonhumans is like watching an opera replete with spying, deception, manipulation, alliances, and so much more. Page 99 just hints at that…
Visit Lee Alan Dugatkin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue