The rarity of twins: A result of an evolutionary battle between mothers and daughters-or do they agree?

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The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that parent-offspring conflict over parental investment might have led to the rarity of dizygotic twins in humans. We explored the theoretical prediction that twins maximize their inclusive fitness by the death of a co-twin, while mothers of twins maximize fitness by raising both twins to independence. We used life history data (1700-1900) from two parishes in Central Norway to compare differences in inclusive fitness (measured as number of children reared to the age of 16 years, using Hamilton's rule) between twins and mothers of twins. Our results show that twins maximize their inclusive fitness by the death of a co-twin, while mothers of twins raise more children by rearing both twins to adulthood. However, because twins growing up as singletons may produce higher or at least equal number of offspring than the sum of the two twins growing up together, mothers might gain more grandchildren by allowing twins to grow up as singletons. To conclude, both selfish twins and their mothers might benefit by the death of a co-twin, indicating that there is no parent-offspring conflict responsible for the rareness of twins in these human populations. Finally, we discuss the results in the light of "The Insurance Egg Hypothesis" and "The Natural Selection Hypothesis".

Author-supplied keywords

  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Humans
  • Lifetime reproductive success
  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Twins

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