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Vero Copner Wynne Edwards

(1906—1997) zoologist


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(1906–1997) British zoologist Wynne-Edwards, who was born in Leeds, graduated in natural science from Oxford University in 1927. After leaving Oxford in 1929 he taught zoology at Bristol University (1929–30) and at McGill University, Montreal (from 1930). He returned to Britain in 1946 and served as professor of natural history at Aberdeen University until his retirement in 1974.

In 1962 Wynne-Edwards published his Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour, one of the most influential zoological works of the postwar years. Much of it became known to a wider public through the popular writings of Robert Ardrey. In it he put the strongest possible case for group selection, the view that animals sacrifice personal survival and fertility to control population growth, that is, for the good of the group as a whole. They behave, in fact, altruistically.

Thus for Wynne-Edwards all such animal behavior as territoriality, dominance hierarchies, and grouping in large flocks (epideictic behavior) were simply devices for the control of population size. Such views stimulated a strong reaction, forcing his opponents to develop alternative accounts of altruism and population control in as much depth as his own.

It was from this dispute that theorists such as William Hamilton and Robert Trivers began to develop the concepts that emerged as one of the strains of sociobiology developed by Edward O. Wilson.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.


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