Vol.2, No.11, 1253-1263 (2010) Natural Science
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Coerced group collaborative evolution as an
explanation for sexual reproduction’s prevalence
Robert J. Lin1, Feng Lin2*
1School of Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, USA
2College of Engineering, Wayne State University, Detroit, USA; *Corresponding author: flin@ece.eng.wayne.edu
Received 10 July 2010; revised 15 August 2010; accepted 18 August 2010.
The prevalence of sexual reproduction has long
been an outstanding problem of evolutionary
biology. Different explanations have been of-
fered to explain the prevalence of sexual re-
production. These explanations mainly focus on
the benefits of sexual reproduction’s ability to
shuffle and recombine genes. In this paper, we
propose an alternative and comprehensive
point of view to this important problem. We first
hypothesize that sexual reproduction leads to
genetic homogeneity and maintains adapta-
tional advantages of organisms. In stable con-
ditions with strong selective pressures, the
maintenance of desired adaptational advan-
tages is one benefit of sexual reproduction. We
further hypothesize that sexual reproduction
provides a mechanism by which entire popu-
lations of similar genomes can interact and
collaborate with one another in order to im-
prove the population’s average genomic fit-
ness, a phenomena we call coerced collabora-
tive group evolution. We show that groups of
individuals will improve as a whole, even
though each individual is still operating under
their own best interests. We also argue that the
so-called ‘two-fold cost of males’ is misguided
if we take limited resources in any environ-
ment into consideration. Finally, we propose
an intuitive and visualized view to connect
different theories on sexual reproduction to
establish a comprehensive theory to explain
sexual reproduction’s prevalence.
Keywords: Evolution; Sexual Reproduction;
Genetic Homogeneity; Selective Pressure; Com-
puter Simulation
Why sexual reproduction? This question is of interest
not only to biologists, but also to the general public as a
whole [1-4]. The prevalence of sexual reproduction sug-
gests that there are major benefits provided by this mode
of reproduction. The benefits, however, are not obvious.
In many ways, asexual reproduction seems to be a better
evolutionary strategy: only one parent is required, and
all of the parent's genes are passed on to its progeny
[5-12]. In a sexual population, the males are unable to
produce offspring of their own and females only transfer
half their genes to offspring, hence the theoretical prob-
lem of the ‘two-fold cost of males.’ Sexual reproduction
must also go through obstacles that do not hinder asex-
ual reproduction. Sexually reproducing organisms must
spend a great deal of time and energy to find and attract
mates. The peacock is a good example. The male must
grow a large and intricate tail to attract mates; not only is
producing the tail energy consuming, the peacock must
also carry around its tail at all times, leaving it vulner-
able to predators. Furthermore, copulation in sexually
reproducing organisms leaves both organisms vulnerable
to predation. Despite these major drawbacks to sexual
reproduction, it is still a very prevalent form of repro-
duction in most living organisms.
Many researchers have put forth numerous explana-
tions for why sex is so prevalent. Current hypotheses to
explain the maintenance of sex typically focus on the
benefits of the inherent ability of sexual reproduction to
recombine and shuffle genetic information [13-20].
These benefits are undoubtedly significant. We believe,
however, there are other explanations for sexual repro-
duction’s prevalence.
We will start by considering various reproductive bar-
riers that must be overcome by sexual reproduction. The
consequence is that only parents with similar genetic
codes can produce viable offspring, which results in the
formation of clusters of individuals with a similar ge-
netic makeup. Thus, sexual reproduction leads to genetic
homogeneity of a population. This allows organisms to
maintain adaptational advantages. In stable conditions
with strong selective pressures, the maintenance of de-
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
sired adaptational advantages is one benefit of sexual
reproduction [22].
We then show that since in sexual reproduction, each
individual will try to find the best mates, groups of indi-
viduals will improve as a whole much faster than asex-
ual reproduction, even though each individual is still
operating under their own best interests. In this sense,
sexual reproduction provides a mechanism by which
entire populations of similar genomes can interact and
collaborate with another in order to improve the popula-
tion’s average genomic fitness, a phenomena we call
coerced collaborative group evolution.
We also argue that since resources in any environment
are limited, the assumption that asexual reproduction
should have an automatic two-fold reproductive advan-
tage over sexual reproduction is misguided.
Finally, we propose an intuitive and visualized view to
connect different theories—including our theory of co-
erced collaborative group evolution—on sexual repro-
duction to establish a comprehensive ‘poly-theory’ to
explain sexual reproduction’s prevalence.
One of sexual reproduction’s most evident benefits is
its ability to allow the recombination of different genes.
However, this benefit can only occur when a successful
mating takes place. Consequently, intrinsic to the sexual
process are numerous reproductive barriers that limit the
extent of dissimilarity that can be exchanged between
the genetic information of two individuals. These repro-
ductive barriers have been well documented. For a de-
tailed discussion on these reproductive barriers and iso-
lating mechanisms such as ecological isolation, behavior
isolation, temporal and mechanical isolation, as well as
the prevention of fusion between different species’ gam-
etes, see our paper [22].
All these reproductive isolating mechanisms are ulti-
mately derived from an organism’s genetic coding. As a
result, sexual reproduction indeed allows for genetic
exchange, but on the other hand, this genetic exchange
cannot be so drastic or profound, otherwise mating will
never occur in the first place, or even if it does, the re-
sulting offspring will not survive. Because gene ex-
change is limited to organisms having compatible ge-
netic codes, we believe that sexual reproduction leads to
the formation of clusters of individuals with a similar
genetic makeup.
On the other hand, although asexual reproduction is
believed to preserve genetic integrity from one genera-
tion to the next, the asexual genome is not static and it is
prone to various changes such as mutation, horizontal
gene transfer, and chromosomal rearrangement [23].
These resulting genetic changes are copied directly to
offspring. Any genome change that does not result in an
asexual organism’s death will be carried into future gen-
erations. As a consequence, asexual genomes will di-
verge and differentiate from each other over time.
Evidence that sexual reproduction promotes genetic
homogeneity and that asexual reproduction promotes
genetic diversity is not just reserved to the literature. We
have created computer simulations that simulate sexual
and asexual reproduction, and the results of the simula-
tions provide strong, testable evidence that further sup-
ports our hypothesis [22]. As seen from our simulations,
asexual reproduction results in diversification of genetic
composition and sexual simulations resulted in the for-
mation of tight clusters. These tight clusters are main-
tained by the sexual process and prevent the massive
diversification (deleterious mutation accumulation) seen
by asexual simulations.
Now, what is the benefit of genetic homogeneity and
clustering? We hypothesize that when conditions are
relatively stable, the strength of selective pressures is
strong, and when organisms have become adapted to
those selective pressures, it would be most beneficial to
maintain those adaptations.
To illustrate this benefit of genetic homogeneity and
maintenance of adaptational advantages in a biological
context, we take the example of a developed ecosystem
that is near its “climax community.” Such systems can
be considered relatively stable with high biodiversity.
The high biodiversity means there is more competition
for the same limited resources. In order for all these spe-
cies to successfully live amongst each other, selective
pressures have caused each species to develop specific
adaptations that allow it to occupy an exclusive niche
(strong selective pressure) [24]. It’s also a common ob-
servation that k-reproductive strategies typically domi-
nate such systems [24]. The practice of organisms in
such systems to reproduce fewer, but more highly
niche-adapted offspring are all adaptations due to selec-
tive pressures that allow these species to survive in this
type of environment. Deviating away from such adapta-
tions, which means deviating away from the species’
niche, results in competition with other species that oc-
cupy other niches. These other species are highly
adapted for their niches; consequently, the ‘deviant or-
ganism’ is unlikely to survive the competition. Sexual
reproduction maintains adaptational advantages and
minimizes the conversion of precious resources to the
production of ‘deviant organisms’ that are unlikely to
The same reasoning applies to an opposite situation. It
is a common observation that in harsh environments,
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
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many sexual organisms employ the r-reproductive strat-
egy. In such environments, specific adaptations geared
toward maximizing individual survival in the environ-
ment are not as useful. Instead, selective pressures have
caused these organisms to develop adaptations that allow
them to reproduce quickly and in prodigious numbers, as
well as typically having low nutrient requirements, short
maturation time, etc. [24]. In order to maintain these
adaptations, such organisms also reproduce sexually.
To further support our idea that sex promotes genetic
homogeneity and maintains adaptational advantages, we
have designed computer simulations that show that sex-
ual reproduction is beneficial in stable conditions with
strong selective pressures [22].
In summary, many observations and our computer
simulations support the following hypothesis. (1) Sexual
reproduction is a species stabilization mechanism that
naturally maintains genetic homogeneity and species
identity. (2) Asexual reproduction, which does not have
this inherent species stabilization mechanism, actually
leads to genetic diversity and no definitive species iden-
tity. (3) Sexual reproduction is beneficial because the
maintenance of species identity maintains desired adap-
tational advantages, which is important when selective
pressures are strong and stable.
We further hypothesize that sexual reproduction is a
mechanism by which entire populations of similar ge-
nomes can interact and collaborate with another in order
to improve the population’s average genomic fitness.
This process results in descendent offspring adapting
much faster and having a higher average fitness than an
equivalent asexual population with only natural selection
to serve as its adaptive force. In a sense, obligate sexual
reproduction acts as the bridging mechanism that causes
groups of organisms to evolve together as a group.
We believe that the primary benefit for the mainte-
nance of sexual reproduction is its ability to allow indi-
vidual genomes within a population, which we shall
consequently refer to as a gene pool, to interact and col-
laborate with one another leading to the gene pool to
evolve as a whole unit rather than being the simple sum
of all individual genomes comprising it. Naturally, this
interaction of genomes comprising the gene pool evolves
in such a way that the gene pool adapts to the conditions
of its environment. Before we begin, some readers may
immediately begin to question our idea due to our men-
tion and emphasis of group evolution. We acknowledge
and are aware of the general consensus that group selec-
tion is believed to be a relatively minor evolutionary
force [25]. Our use of the term group evolution is dis-
tinct from group evolution as it applies to group selec-
tion. Group evolution, in our sense, is the resulting ad-
aptation of an entire gene pool to its environment
through selection forces operating at the level of the in-
dividual organism.
Before we begin to explain this, we would like to
mention that a hypothesis to explain sexual reproduction
must account for the evolution of obligately sexual or-
ganisms that don’t have the ability to be facultatively
sexual as their needs dictate. One can make the argument
that the evolution of sexual reproduction naturally leads
to the development of obligate sexual reproduction, and
that the development of sexual reproduction must incur
the complete jettison of all asexual reproductive capaci-
ties. However, the presence of such organisms as aphids,
etc. clearly shows that the development of sexual repro-
duction need not necessarily preclude asexual capacities
and that the two functions are not necessarily mutually
exclusive within the same organism. That clearly begs
the question of why sex is not only so prevalent in
higher-order organisms, but also why sex tends to be in
the obligate form. Why not develop both functions and
get the best of both worlds? We shall keep this question
in mind, as we develop our concept of coerced collabo-
rative group evolution (CCGE).
We shall now assume a population of hypothetical
sexually reproducing organisms. This hypothetical
population is genetically diverse enough such that each
individual has its own distinctive fitness value in relation
to the environment and other individuals within the
population. We assume that this population is obligately
sexual. We also assume that the primary goal of the in-
dividual is to pass on as many of its genes to offspring
that will be able to survive to adulthood to spread their
own genes.
We shall now focus our attention on a single individ-
ual, which we shall refer to as X, within this population.
Since this individual is obligately sexual, it automati-
cally incurs the 50% genetic cost of sexual reproduction.
Therefore, in order to maximally spread the 50% of its
genes that it does contribute to offspring, it is in its best
interest to mate and reproduce with the most fit indi-
viduals in the population that are within reproductive age,
all these individuals we shall term generation P. By cou-
pling its genes with a fit individual, Y, in generation P,
the resulting offspring, generation F1, will have the best
chance of survival to spread their own genes (which are
composed of 50% of X’s genetic content and 50% of Y’s
genetic content).
Let us consider a single offspring of X, whom we
shall refer to as Z. Again, the same principles driving X’s
mating decisions will also apply to Z; Z will attempt to
spread its genes as much as possible in the form of re-
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
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productively successful offspring. Since Z does not have
the option of asexual reproduction, Z is forced to com-
bine its genes with another individual in generation F1.
In order to have the best chances of spreading its genes
(which is the combination of X and Y), it is in the best
interests of Z to mate with the most fit individuals of
generation F1.
We can extrapolate these observations and come to the
conclusion that in each generation, the fittest individuals
will contribute the greatest proportion to the gene pool,
while the least fit individuals would contribute a much
lower proportion. Any individual’s reproductive success
then becomes directly related to that individual’s fitness
in relation to the average fitness of the gene pool. As a
consequence, with each successive generation, the gene
pool will shift in content to greater average fitness. This
rate of adaptation of the gene pool in accordance to the
environment would be faster than if natural selection
were to operate alone. This would also lead to greater
genetic homogeneity of the population as the fittest indi-
viduals leave a disproportionate amount of their genes
into the gene pool, much more so than natural selection
would achieve by itself.
In sexual reproduction, surviving to reproductive age
does not necessarily guarantee an individual’s ability to
produce offspring; sexual reproduction forces an indi-
vidual to also be of high fitness (in relation to other indi-
viduals in the population) in order to spread its genes.
Such a constraint does not apply to asexual reproduction.
So long as an asexual individual survives to reproductive
age, and so long as the asexual individual has the re-
sources for reproduction, an asexual individual can re-
produce at will. In the interests of preserving one’s own
genes as much as possible, asexual reproduction is
clearly the more attractive option: the individual can
reproduce at will, and the individual can transfer 100%
of their genes with each offspring. Remove the ability of
asexual reproduction, and force all individuals to operate
under the same rules (forced mating and 50% gene
transference per offspring) and the result is that the
group of individuals operating under those rules will
improve as a whole, even though each individual is still
operating under their own best interests.
We can immediately see that the simple principles of
coerced collaborative group evolution as we have just
lain out depend on one simple factor: sexual reproduc-
tion must be obligatory. Once an organism acquires the
ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually; the
overriding desire to spread its own genes as much as
possible would most likely cause the organism to opt for
asexual reproduction the majority of the time (as this
would allow for 100% gene transference). This would
completely erode sexual reproduction’s ability to force
coerced collaborative group evolution. It is here that we
now consider the question of why most sexual organisms
are not facultatively sexual? According to our hypothesis,
it is because coerced collaborative group evolution can-
not operate unless all individuals are obligately sexual.
Interestingly, it has also been shown that sexual selection
may be a strong enough force to warrant dominance of
obligate sexual reproduction over facultative sexual re-
production, even in the short-term [26].
Addressing the issue of sexual reproduction’s preva-
lence requires us to not only provide an explanation of
its advantages over asexual reproduction, but also to
address the nuances of its mechanics. At its most basic
level, sexual reproduction is a process in which an or-
ganism halves its genetic content into gametes and then
later fuses two gametes to form a new individual. We
can easily imagine that the obstacles to overcome in or-
der to develop such a reproductive mechanism are not
terribly difficult at the single-cell level. We can suppose
that a mutation occurs in a bacterium such that it acci-
dentally splits its genome in half; recovery of its full
genomic content would require simple fusing of the
daughter cells containing half the genetic content. This is
one possible mechanism of the evolution of sex at the
unicellular level. Undoubtedly, there are other possible
ways to develop such a mechanism. That however, is not
our main concern.
What concerns us is that this concept simply illus-
trates that at the most basic level, sex simply requires a
halving of genes into gametes, and then a fusion of these
gametes to form a full genome. The simple mechanics of
this process applies to the ever-increasing complexities
of higher-level organisms. At the most basic level of this
process, designation of a male or female component is
arbitrary and irrelevant. From this basic concept, one can
easily imagine evolution progressing in such a manner
that the male/female differentiation process remains ir-
relevant; that eventually, hypothetical animals in this
hypothetical divergent evolution could evolve in such a
manner as to produce both eggs and sperm. Copulation
could occur such that both animals release sperm that
fertilize with eggs in both respective individuals. In such
a process, differentiation of gametes into eggs and sperm
may not even have evolved in the way that we under-
stand eggs and sperm to be; however, that is speculation
and not central to this thought process. Supposing such a
reproductive mechanism did evolve and both organisms
using this mechanism would both be impregnated and
bare the burden of producing children. A population of
these hypothetical organisms would no longer have half
the population (the males) being unable to produce chil-
dren. Such a population would have the equivalent fe-
cundity as an asexual population; the only limitation
being the time and energy to recruit a suitable mate.
Such a process would bypass the supposed ‘two-fold
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cost of males,’ while retaining all the recombination
benefits that sexual reproduction provides. We hope the
reader will agree that such a dual-copulation process of
sexual reproduction, aka monoeciousism in animals, is
very possible in theory. In fact, earthworms are a natural
example of animals that engage in the type of
monoecious sexual reproduction that we have just de-
With this hypothetical thought experiment that we
have just lain forth, we conclude that not only must there
be a reasoning behind the development of sexual repro-
duction in higher level organisms, but there must also be
a reasoning for why animals have predominantly devel-
oped a dioecious rather than a monoecious form of sex-
ual reproduction. A strong explanation for sex should
logically be able to explain both questions in one hy-
Our hypothesis of coerced collaborative group evolu-
tion, in which obligate sexual reproduction forces all
organisms in a population to behave through individual
interests in such a manner that causes the group gene
pool to move towards maximal average fitness much
faster and more efficiently than natural selection alone,
is able to answer both of those questions. We have al-
ready explained how the mechanisms of coerced col-
laborative group evolution lead to greater gene pool fit-
ness. Therefore, we now seek to answer why animals
have predominantly chosen a dioecious form of sexual
reproduction rather than the monoecious form that many
plants have adopted.
According to our hypothesis, mate selection plays an
important role in the mechanics governing coerced col-
laborative group evolution. Each individual organism
seeks to maximize the spread of its genes, and this is
best achieved if that individual’s genes are coupled with
the genes of a high fitness individual. A central differ-
ence between animals and plants is the issue of mobility.
Animals, with their ability to move around and actively
sift through potential mates within their geographic loca-
tion are much better equipped to successfully identify
and mate with high fitness individuals of the same spe-
cies. Plants, which don’t have that same mobility, must
rely on far less discriminating means of spreading their
gametes: insect pollination, etc. By losing the ability of
mate selectivity, the advantages provided by coerced
collaborative group evolution are reduced; hence pro-
viding an incentive to choose monoecious sexual repro-
duction over dioecious sexual reproduction.
One can certainly make the argument that more fit
plants are more likely to attract insect interaction,
through more lustrous displays of flowers, and hence in
theory would spread their genes to more plants. However,
with no ability of receiving flowers to distinguish be-
tween the quality of pollen being deposited, the power of
coerced collaborative group evolution in plants is almost
certainly reduced in comparison to animals. The ques-
tion of how much coerced collaborative group evolution
is at work in plants is admittedly difficult for us to ad-
dress with certainty. However, we will simply point out
that plant species have developed to be both dioecious
and monoecious, while animals are almost certainly
dioecious. The fact that plants can be both dioecious and
monoecious does not work against our hypothesis, while
the fact that animals are almost certainly dioecious lends
support to our hypothesis.
We have previously lain forth a hypothetical form of
monoeciousism in animals of ‘dual-copulation’ in which
one copulation event results in both individuals becom-
ing impregnated by the other individual. We chose to
start with that example because of its simplicity; some
readers may point out that there are other possible hypo-
thetical forms of monoeciousism in animals. An obvious
example would be an organism that has both male and
female reproductive organs and one copulation event
between two individuals resulting in only one individual
becoming impregnated, rather than a dual-copulation
event. Once again, like the dual-copulation example, this
would be a reproductive strategy in which all members
of the population could contribute to the production of
offspring; effectively bypassing the ‘two-fold cost of
males.’ Once again, we must ask ourselves, why did the
evolution of animals not proceed down this evolutionary
pathway? And once again, an explanation for the main-
tenance of sexual reproduction must be able to resolve
this question.
Just like the assumptions we made for the founda-
tional mechanisms of coerced collaborative group evolu-
tion, let us assume that each individual acts in a selfish
manner to maximize the spread of their genes. Once
again, individuals are obligately sexual and always con-
tribute 50% of their genes for every offspring produced.
In this scenario, unlike dual-copulation, each individual
has two choices: (1) be ‘male,’ and simply provide DNA
for fertilization and bear no further reproductive costs or
(2) be ‘female,’ and provide DNA and bear the reproduc-
tive costs of producing the offspring (and possibly ex-
pending further resources to raise the offspring to adult-
It should be clear that if every individual is to act in a
manner that maximizes spread of their genes, then op-
tion 1 would be the logical choice that every individual
would choose; the amount of genes provided per copula-
tion is equivalent, and without having to expend further
resources raising the offspring, the individual is free to
expend those resources in further copulation events.
However, if every individual selected option 1 as their
strategy, then there would be no individuals producing
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
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offspring. Clearly, such a scenario is not viable and this
may be sufficient to explain why this form of
monoecious sexual reproduction is not prevalent.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that not every
individual chooses option 1, thereby allowing the pro-
duction of offspring and the continued survival of the
species. Now we must ask, what would cause an organ-
ism to choose option 2 over the more attractive option 1?
One possibility is a ‘domination’ scenario. Before a
copulation event, both individuals engage in some sort
of battle, with the victor gaining the right to engage in
option 1. In such a contest, it would be logical to assume
that the stronger or more fit individual would win the
contest and thereby force the weaker, less fit individual,
to bear the reproductive burden of option 2. If every in-
dividual is out to maximize the spread of their genes,
then we think it’s logical that every individual of every
level of fitness would seek to mate with an individual of
lower fitness. This reasoning is simple, by mating with a
lower fitness individual, the organism increases its
chances of mating by option 1 without paying the costs
of option 2. However, this strategy runs exactly opposite
of our proposed coerced collaborative group evolution,
and such cumulative actions of seeking lower fitness
individuals would lead to a degradation of the average
fitness of the gene pool over time. We are unaware of
any animals that engage in this type of monoecious sex-
ual reproduction, giving us some confidence in the va-
lidity of coerced collaborative group evolution.
Another possibility is a ‘random sexual function’ sce-
nario. In this case, the choosing of the ‘male’ between
two individuals is chosen at random. Since the individu-
als have no choice over the matter of who is placed with
the burden of option 2, all individuals will naturally
choose to mate with individuals of high fitness. Such a
strategy would promote similar positive effects of co-
erced collaborative group evolution on the gene pool.
However, such a scenario is unlikely in nature because it
is not an evolutionarily stable strategy. Mutations allow-
ing individuals to choose the male sex would be selected
for, bringing the species back into the problems that we
have already described.
A third possibility is a ‘desperation’ scenario. In every
copulation event, the individual that chooses option 2
does so voluntarily. However, we can assume that each
individual will first attempt option 1 as their default
strategy. Individuals will refrain from doing option 2
unless they decide that option 2 is their best strategy
because producing some offspring is better than produc-
ing no offspring. What would cause an individual to de-
cide that option 2 is a preferable strategy than option 1?
That would depend on the individual’s history of repro-
ductive success with option 1 in relation to the time left
in the individual’s fertile phase of their life cycle. We
assume that every individual will voluntarily choose to
do option 2 at the very end of their fertile phase; the in-
dividual might as well engage in one last-ditch effort to
produce one more batch of offspring. This means that in
a population of varying aged individuals, there will al-
ways be some individuals willing to choose option 2, all
other individuals will choose to do option 1 and will be
competing amongst each other for mating rights. Each
individual that volunteers for option 2 will naturally
want to mate with the highest fitness individual in order
to maximize offspring survival. This means that the
highest fitness individuals will have the highest success
with option 1. Individuals with high success with option
1 will naturally continue to choose the strategy of option
1. Individuals that have minimal success with option 1,
individuals of low fitness, are more likely to decide that
option 2 is a preferable reproductive strategy earlier in
their fertile phase, and then will likely continue with
maintaining option 2 as their strategy. This leads to an
interesting conclusion: high fitness individuals will al-
most always be coupled to low fitness individuals in
every copulation event. If that’s the case, then the aver-
age fitness of the gene pool will improve very slowly, if
at all, compared to a population engaged in coerced col-
laborative group evolution with designated sexes. That
no organisms engage in this type of reproduction, gives
us more confidence in coerced collaborative group evo-
As with the case of nearly all universally accepted
biological principles, the incredible diversity and com-
plexity of life always lends to a few exceptions; her-
maphroditism in animals is no exception. We will at-
tempt to explain these unusual forms of sexual reproduc-
tion within the framework of coerced collaborative
group evolution.
Our first case of interest is the simultaneous her-
maphrodites, in particular, earthworms that we have pre-
viously mentioned, that engage exactly in the
dual-copulation mechanism that we have described. At
this point, we can only offer a weak explanation similar
to the explanation of monoecious plants. Earthworms are
motile and hence have one advantage over plants in a
possible utilization of mate selection to result in a co-
erced collaborative group evolution process; however,
their sensory systems (necessary for mate selection) are
much more limited in capacity than dioecious animals.
Their sensory systems are limited to tactile sensation,
limited sensitivity to light, and chemical receptors. With
limited ability for mate selection, there is no impetus to
drive their evolution towards utilization of coerced col-
laborative group evolution. Some may point out that
there are a whole host of dioecious organisms with sen-
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
sory systems more limited than the earthworm. However,
these organisms are also capable of asexual reproduction
in one form or another, and hence we’ve omitted them
from discussion. Therefore, like the example of monoe-
cious plants, whether or not a species adopts dioecious
sexual reproduction is an interplay between the strength
of selection for coerced collaborative group evolution
due to its positive modulating effect on the species’ gene
pool and the higher reproductive capability of monoe-
cious sexual reproduction.
We will now focus our attention on the sequential
hermaphodites and the systems of protandry and pro-
togyny. A good example of protandry is the clownfish in
which each fish is originally born male. These fish gen-
erally live in a group in which there is one large repro-
ductive female, a smaller reproductive male, and many
smaller non-reproductive males. Upon death or removal
of the female, the reproductive male changes into the
female, and the largest non-reproductive male becomes
reproductive male. Such interesting reproductive behav-
iors actually work to enhance the effect of coerced col-
laborative group evolution. The numbers of females are
dramatically reduced compared to the normal 1:1 Fishe-
rian sex ratio. Meanwhile, it is the largest (fittest)
non-reproductive male that becomes the reproductive
male upon conversion of the reproductive male to female.
This phenomena is essentially an enhancement of co-
erced collaborative group evolution, in which only the
two most highly fit individuals of the group contribute
their genes to all consequent offspring of the group. Why
most organisms have not chosen this reproductive mode
is most likely due to the high social interaction required
of the species that participates in this reproductive form,
as well as the reduced reproductive fecundity of having
such small numbers of offspring-bearing females. This
example offers evidence in support of coerced collabora-
tive group evolution as well as brings into question the
validity of the ‘two-fold cost of males,’ as we will dis-
cuss later in this paper.
An example of the process of protogyny is the blue
wrasse. These fish are born either males or females in
Fisherian ratios. However, there are two types of males:
terminal phase males and initial phase males. Initial
phase males are non-reproductive and look very similar
to females. Death or removal of the terminal phase male
results in either the dominant female or the dominant
initial phase male becoming the terminal phase male.
Such a process actually leads to an enhancement of co-
erced collaborative group evolution, in which highly fit
females also possess the ability to become the reproduc-
tive terminal phase male and consequently can spread
their genes to a much greater extent in benefit for the
gene pool. However, the probability that the fittest fe-
male has a better fitness than the fittest male of the
group is probably very small, and so the added en-
hancement of coerced collaborative group evolution is
probably minimal at best. The greater simplicity of
purely dioecious sexual reproduction for a minimal loss
of coerced collaborative group evolution effect probably
explains the predominance of pure dioecious sexual re-
production over this form of protogyny.
We would now like to focus discussion on the
‘two-fold cost of males.’ The principle of the ‘two-fold
cost of males’ is based essentially on the assumption
that because a dioecious sexually reproducing popula-
tion is half male with no offspring bearing capabilities,
then an asexually reproducing population in which all
members can bear offspring should be able to generate
much more offspring and hence outcompete a sexually
reproducing population; therefore, sexual reproduction
must have a two-fold fitness advantage over asexual
reproduction. At first glance, it would seem that this
assumption appears to be logically sound. It is on this
assumption that numerous theories have been offered
that attempt to illustrate how sexual reproduction can
potentially lead to a two-fold fitness advantage of its
However, it is of our opinion that the assumption
that asexual reproduction should have an automatic
two-fold reproductive advantage over sexual repro-
duction is misguided. The problem is that a sexually
reproducing species can always double its production
of offspring, thereby equaling the overall reproductive
rates of an asexual population. If sexual reproduction
can always reach a reproductive rate equal to asexual
reproduction, then the numerous advantages conferred
by sex that have been elaborated by numerous scien-
tists as well as coerced collaborative group evolution
that we have just described, are more than enough to
warrant sexual reproduction’s continued maintenance
and prevalence.
Obviously, one can make the immediate argument
that for every doubling of reproductive rates of a sex-
ual population, an asexual population could also dou-
ble its rate to outcompete the sexual population. This
would be true for a scenario in which an environment
has infinite resources, and this is why the initial argu-
ment for the ‘two-fold cost of males’ appears at first
glance to be sound. However, as we know, any envi-
ronment has a limited amount of resources; an upper
limit has to be reached, otherwise, resources would be
so diluted that no organism would be able to survive.
Therefore, one can imagine that in the reproductive
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
rate arms race between an asexual and a sexual popu-
lation, an equilibrium point where the reproductive
rate of the sexual population will be about the same as
an asexual population will eventually be achieved. One
can imagine that at such an equilibrium point, an asex-
ual population, being at a fitness disadvantage against
a sexual population, may try to make that up by in-
creasing its reproductive rate. However, to do so would
decrease its survival and reproductive success in the
immediate future (as well as the sexual population)
due to the limiting factor of finite resources, thereby
driving its reproductive rate back to equilibrium; the
same can be said for a sexual population increasing its
reproductive rate in order to match any asexual attempt
at an increased reproductive rate advantage.
Now, these are all hypothetical arguments on paper,
and we believe that natural phenomena are the best
evidence. Going back to our previous arguments of
monoecious and dioecious sexual reproduction, we
pointed out that a monoecious form of sexual repro-
duction would bypass the reproductive rate disadvan-
tage of dioecious sexual reproduction. So why is dio-
ecious sexual reproduction still common? If we are to
hypothetically assume that our coerced collaborative
group evolution arguments are not true, then one is
once again left with the question of why dioecious
sexual reproduction is more prominent over
monoecious sexual reproduction. Based on the obser-
vation of so much dioecious sexual reproduction, one
can argue that the cost of males must not be very large;
otherwise natural selection would have surely driven
evolution towards the direction of monoecious sexual
In the quest to answer the mystery of sex, many com-
peting theories have been offered. No doubt, some pro-
ponents of each of these respective theories may justi-
fiably cling to their belief that their theory is the best
explanation among this group of theories. However,
none of the current theories seem truly satisfactory when
viewed in isolation. Also, none of these theories are truly
mutually exclusive of each other. As such, we are of the
belief that a true explanation for sexual reproduction’s
prevalence will likely require a ‘poly-theory’ synthesis
of existing explanations for sex.
We will attempt to unify our theory of coerced col-
laborative group evolution within this ‘poly-theory’
framework. Before doing so, we would like to empha-
size that while this new framework may seem to be an
attempt on our part to push our theory as ‘the grand the-
ory of all things sex,’ that is not the case at all. We have
already emphasized that our theory of coerced collabora-
tive group evolution attempts to address the specific
question of obligate dioecious sexual reproduction and
we have already acknowledged that in cases of
monoecious sexual reproduction or facultative sexual
reproduction, coerced collaborative group evolution
plays a lesser role. In those cases, we believe a
‘poly-theory’ explanation of sex is needed to explain
sexual reproduction’s multiple advantages over asexual
To explain coerced collaborative group evolution and
how it fits among the other theories of sex, we will ad-
dress each theory on an individual basis, and show how
the theory plays a role in coerced collaborative group
evolution and gene pool group evolution. In order to aid
our discussion, we would like to first put forth a model
to help visualize each theory and how it fits with coerced
collaborative group evolution. Let us imagine a two di-
mensional space (we choose two dimensions for sim-
plicity). Within this space we can place a point at any
arbitrary location. This point can then be viewed as rep-
resenting the 100% maximal fitness genotype location,
with the surrounding space representing all possible
genotypic points. Of course, this 100% maximal fitness
genotype point is completely hypothetical; we simply
make the assumption that if all biotic and abiotic factors
in a complex ecosystem can be accounted for and quan-
tified, then there should be one hypothetical genotype
that would be perfectly adapted for those parameters,
this is the 100% maximal genotype point. Any point
located in the surrounding space is deviating from per-
fect fitness, with points being closer to the maximal
point being higher in fitness than points at a location
with a farther radius. We can then think of a ‘gene pool’
being the sum of all these points. Average fitness of the
gene pool would be measured by summing all of the
radial point distances from the maximum fitness point
and then averaging the sum; the lower the average, the
higher the average fitness of the gene pool.
Natural selection can be thought of as an ‘inward’
force that pushes genotypic points closer to the maxi-
mum fitness point. Genotype points closer to the maxi-
mum fitness have a higher chance of producing offspring
(generating genotype points within the vicinity of the
parent genotype point); genotype points farther away
have a lower chance of producing offspring, and hence,
over time the location of genotype points will shift
closer to the maximum point. The results of this model
and natural selection’s effect on how the model works
should be very underwhelming to the reader; we are
simply taking a time-cherished theory and restating it
under a different perspective; some readers may already
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
visualize natural selection in a manner similar to how
we’ve just described it.
Mutation can be thought of as a primarily ‘outward’
force that pushes genotypic points away from the maxi-
mum fitness point. Neutral mutations would simply re-
sult in the generation of a genotypic point within the
same circumferential radius as the parent point. Delete-
rious mutations results in points generated at a farther
radius. Beneficial mutations result in points with a closer
radius. However, it’s generally agreed that most muta-
tions are neutral or deleterious hence, we view mutation
as an ‘outward’ force.
With this model, we must also factor in that environ-
ments are never static; biotic and abiotic factors are al-
ways in a constant state of flux. Under our model, this
can be represented by our maximum fitness point being
under a constant state of motion. Under a short time
scale, this point would make minimal movements around
a general vicinity of the genotypic space. However, un-
der a long time scale, or the introduction of a catastro-
phic event, the movement of the maximum fitness point
from its original location can be significant.
With this model in mind, our first focus will be on the
most basic theory of sex: promotion of genetic variation.
The random contribution of 50% of the genes of both
parents in sexual reproduction leads to the generation of
varying genotypes amongst the offspring. This allows
greater exploration of genotype possibilities hence pro-
viding the raw fuel for natural selection to act upon. In
addition, these varying genotype possibilities interact
with the environment to contribute to varying pheno-
types, upon which mating selectivity can act upon,
thereby fueling the process of coerced collaborative
group evolution. This generation of greater phenotypic
substrate variety that can be acted upon is the foundation
for the mechanics of natural selection and coerced col-
laborative group evolution. In essence, under our visual
model, this promotion of genetic variation allows parents
to generate offspring at different genotypic points than
themselves. These offspring points can be generated at
radial distances closer, farther, or the same as the parent
points in relation to the maximum fitness point.
Our next focus will be on the concept of Muller’s
Ratchet. Under this theory, continued accumulation of
deleterious mutations leads to a degradation of a species’
average fitness over time, without any method of correc-
tion, the species will likely face extinction [27]. Muller’s
Ratchet explains that sex allows good genes in separate
loci to be recombined to restore a genotype to optimal
fitness. Under our model, accumulation of deleterious
mutations is represented by genotypic points gradually
shifting away from the maximum fitness point. The re-
combination of good genes back onto a single genotype
would be represented by two outwardly shifted genotype
points creating an offspring that has a genotype point
shifted inwards. This shifted genotype then has the pos-
sibility of reproducing with other genotypic points to
help shift the average fitness of the gene pool back to-
wards the maximum fitness point. Coerced collaborative
group evolution dictates that since this point has a higher
fitness than other points, the genotypic content of this
point is more likely to be reproductively successful,
meaning more offspring points are going to be generated
at a location closer to the maximum fitness point. Over-
all, this results in greater genotypic point density closer
to the maximum fitness point. Hence, coerced collabora-
tive group evolution helps to enhance improvement of
the gene pool average fitness.
Another theory is Kondrashov’s Hatchet, or the de-
terministic mutation hypothesis. In this theory, recombi-
nation of deleterious genes onto a single individual re-
sults in a synergistic fatal effect for that individual.
These individuals will have much more reduced fitness
and more unlikely to survive to reproductive age; as a
result, their deleterious genes are more likely to be re-
duced from the population [28]. Coerced collaborative
group evolution would posit that even if these individu-
als survived to reproductive age, their reduced fitness
would give them a much smaller chance of reproductive
success, thereby enhancing the probability that their
deleterious genes will be removed from the gene pool. In
essence, these individuals face two filters to reproductive
success: natural selection and mate selection. In simpli-
fied terms within the context of our model,
Kondrashov’s Hatchet would function as an ‘inward’
force that counters the outward force of mutation, the-
reby increasing the genotypic point density closer to the
maximum fitness point (increasing average fitness).
Another widely touted theory is the Red Queen Hy-
pothesis. In this theory, parasites and hosts engage in a
constant arms battle with hosts evolving resistances to
parasites and parasites evolving ways to get past those
resistances [10,29]. In this theory, sex then generates
new genotypes at a much faster rate than would be pos-
sible with asexual reproduction. The faster generation of
new genotypes then allows for rapid adaptation of resis-
tances against parasites for the hosts. Likewise, sexually
reproducing parasites can have rapid adaptation against
host resistances. Under our model, this constant adapta-
tion and counter-adaptation can be viewed as having the
maximum fitness point shifting its point within the
genotypic space at a rapid pace. A rapidly shifting
maximum fitness point means that the group gene pool
must constant shift its area in the genotypic space in
response to movements of the maximum fitness point.
Under the perspective of coerced collaborative group
R. J. Lin et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 1253-1263
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
evolution, mate selectivity results in faster group gene
pool modulation in response to the rapidly shifting
maximum fitness point location.
In Section 2, we hypothesized that sexual reproduc-
tion is a species stabilization mechanism that naturally
maintains genetic homogeneity and species identity. This
is beneficial because the maintenance of species identity
maintains desired adaptational advantages, which is im-
portant when selective pressures are strong and stable. In
a sense, sexual reproduction functions as a filter that
prevents mutational deviants from contributing their
genetic content back into the group gene pool. In effect,
this reduces the outward force of mutations (genetic
homogeneity) within the context of our model. The nu-
merous well-studied genetic anomalies in humans and
the resulting sterility that often accompany these condi-
tions are an excellent example of deleterious mutations
being barred from entering the group gene pool. In cases
of genetic abnormalities of organisms that remain fertile
and also manage to evade the filter of natural selection,
these organisms are unlikely to be successful in sexual
reproduction. This also leads to coerced collaborative
group evolution.
In this paper, we explained sexual reproduction’s
prevalence by making the following arguments. 1)
Sexual reproduction maintains adaptational advantages
of organisms. 2) Sexual reproduction provides a
mechanism for coerced collaborative group evolution.
3) The so called ‘two-fold cost of males’ is misguided.
4) The best way to explain sexual reproduction’s
prevalence is by a comprehensive ‘poly-theory’.
This research is supported in part by the NSF under grants
ECS-0624828 and ECS-0823865, and by the NIH under grant
1R01DA022730. We would like to thank Hao Ying for his continued
support and encouragement of our idea and Robert D. Brandt for his
advice and guidance.
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