Genetic Altruism in the Belligerent Beehive

by / 1 Comment / 162 View / May 7, 2014

The increasingly present force of globalization maintains a powerful influence over international politics and relations. In this interconnected age more than ever, worldwide integration of economies and political spheres brings sovereign nations closer, spawning relationships fraught with both harmony and discord. Whenever communities operate on a global scale, problems arise demanding international attention and intervention. Society, when rational, demands peace at every occasion. From this conclusion, a logical inquiry arises: how can disputes be resolved in order to achieve peace, the communal pursuit of nature? Or more importantly, can cooperative, altruistic communities survive?

An important note about involvement in international affairs is that in most cases, nations join together for a greater purpose; selfish interests are left behind so that the benefit of the group can be pursued. As it turns out, altruism is a part of our DNA. Genetic altruism has been scientifically recognized as a behavior that has evolved over time due to higher group fitness and natural selection. While the idea of altruism as an advantage may seem counterfactual, in fact, “selfish behavior [that] seems moderated by concern for the interests of a group… evolved from natural selection favoring the most stable and co-operative groups” (Hamilton 354). In other words, when a group is stable and prosperous due to the selfless actions of others, the group as a whole (and inevitably all of the members partaking in the collective good) has a higher fitness for survival.

Unsurprisingly, the ideas of cooperation and conflict originate in nature. A simple model of these concepts is seen in the behavior of Apis mellifera, the honeybee. One unique trait of honeybee communities is the necessity of a single queen bee, an individual upon which the success of the entire hive rests. Scientists are currently studying bees in order to understand human behavior in conflict and cooperation on a much smaller scale. Bees themselves have their own version of international conflict as inter-colony competition between queen bees threatens the integrity of entire hives. Such conflict creates a spirit of cooperation within a single hive as the entire colony works towards one common goal: survival in the face of limited resources and a competitive environment. According to a scientific article published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, “If within-colony selection is predominant, then conflict is expected to occur among nestmates over which queens are produced. If between-colony selection is predominant, then cooperation is expected among nestmates” (Tarpy, Gilley and Seeley 513). This too is driven by natural selection and altruism: if nestmates cooperate, then the entire colony has a higher fitness and better chance of survival. Consequentially, the hive will perform better under selective pressures.

Ultimately, conflict will never be eliminated from society, whether it is a global community or a small (yet never insignificant) honeybee hive. In fact, it is likely that with ever changing ideas and policies, conflict will only manifest itself through new means, inconceivable at the present. In order to make this current world more stable and efficient, the struggle for peace and cooperation must continue, one step at a time; conflict is demanding and peace must be maintained at all costs. The process of peacemaking is daunting, but it is the only weapon that can be used to fight belligerency and create lasting harmony.


Work Cited:

Hamilton, W. D. “The Evolution of Altruistic Behavior.” American Naturalist 97 (1963): 354-56. JSTOR. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

Tarpy, David R., David C. Gilley, and Thomas D. Seeley. “Levels of Selection in a Social Insect: A Review of Conflict and Cooperation during Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Queen Replacement.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 55.6 (2004): 513-23. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.


  • Maggie Heathers

    Natural selection of behavior… and honeybees? This is too good