V. C. Wynne-Edwards (Redirected from Vero Wynne-Edwards)

Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards
V. C. Wynne-Edwards.gif
Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards
Born(1906-07-04)4 July 1906
Died5 January 1997(1997-01-05) (aged 90)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma materNew College, Oxford
Known forgroup selection
AwardsNeill Prize (1973)
Frink Medal (1980)
Walker Prize
Scientific career
InstitutionsMcGill University[1] (1930-1946)
Aberdeen University[2] (1946-1974)

Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards, CBE,[3] FRS,[4] FRSE (4 July 1906 – 5 January 1997) was an English zoologist. He was best known for his advocacy of group selection, the theory that natural selection acts at the level of the group.


He was born in Leeds on 4 July 1906 the son of Rev Canon John Rosindale Wynne-Edwards and his wife, Lilian Agnes Streatfield. He attended Rugby School then studied Zoology at Oxford University graduating MA. In 1929 he took a post at McGill University in Canada, lecturing in zoology. This was interrupted by the Second World War during which he served in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. After the war Aberdeen University made him the Regius Professor in Natural History and he continued this until retiral in 1974.[5]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1950. His proposers were Cyril Edward Lucas, Sir Maurice Yonge, Charles W Parsons and Dr John Berry. He won the Society's Neill Prize for the period 1973–75. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974 and was given an honorary doctorate (LLD) by Aberdeen University.

He remained in the area after retiral and died in Banchory on 5 January 1997.

Advocacy of group selection

Wynne-Edwards was best known for espousing a form of group selection that operates at the level of the species, most notably in his 1962 book, Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour. In it, he argued that many behaviors evolved for the good of the species as a whole, rather than at a lower level of organization. For example, he argued that species have adaptive population-regulatory mechanisms. His arguments were vigorously criticized by George C. Williams in his Adaptation and Natural Selection, a debate summarized by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. David Sloan Wilson and E. O. Wilson called Wynne-Edwards' theory "naive group selection".[6]

Among the mechanisms that Wynne-Edwards proposed was population regulation, based on the communication of population density by what he called epideictic displays, in which individuals advertised their genitals. If a population was becoming too dense, such displays would result in reduced breeding across the population, contrary to Darwinian natural selection but in line with Wynne-Edwards's group selection. The mechanism has never been demonstrated unequivocally.[7]

Fellow of the Royal Society

In 1970 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. His candidature citation read

"Wynne-Edwards is noted for his many contributions to ecology. His early work was on social and other forms of rhythmic behaviour in birds. Later work on North Atlantic birds disclosed the existence of inshore, offshore and pelagic zones, each with a characteristic avian fauna. These categories have been found to apply generally to all oceans, and have been adopted as standard by later authors. His most important work has been on population dynamics in relation to social behaviour. It provides an hypothesis of homeostatic control of population density in animals at an optimum level, with a primary and universal function of sociality. Wynne-Edwards directs two research teams devoted to this work. He has also published papers on the animals and plants of the Arctic."[8]


He married Jeannie Morris in 1929.

Their son Hugh Wynne-Edwards is a professor of geology, and his granddaughter Katherine Wynne-Edwards is a professor of biology at the University of Calgary.


  • Wynne-Edwards, V.C. 1962. Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior. Oliver & Boyd, London.
  • Wynne-Edwards, Vero Copner (1986). Evolution through group selection. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific. ISBN 0-632-01541-1.


  1. ^ HILCHEY, TIM (8 February 1997). "Vero Wynne-Edwards, 90, Evolution Theorist". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  2. ^ HILCHEY, TIM (8 February 1997). "Vero Wynne-Edwards, 90, Evolution Theorist". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  3. ^ "No. 45860". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1972. pp. 7–8.
  4. ^ Newton, I. (1998). "Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards, C. B. E.. 4 July 1906-5 January 1997". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 44: 473–484. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0030. S2CID 72414421.
  5. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  6. ^ "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology"
  7. ^ Stebbing, Tony (2011). A Cybernetic View of Biological Growth: The Maia Hypothesis. Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-521-19963-6.
  8. ^ "Library and Archive catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 27 February 2012.[permanent dead link]


  • Borrello, Mark E (2005). "The rise, fall and resurrection of group selection". Endeavour. 29 (1). pp. 43–7. doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2004.11.003. PMID 15749153.
  • Borrello, Mark E (2004). ""Mutual aid" and "animal dispersion": an historical analysis of alternatives to Darwin". Perspect. Biol. Med. 47 (1). pp. 15–31. doi:10.1353/pbm.2004.0003. PMID 15061166.
  • Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966) Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.
  • Group Selection(1971) Aldine·Atherton, Chicago, IL.

Further reading

Borrello, Mark E. (1970–1980). "Wynne-Edwards, Vero Copner". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 25. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 376–380. ISBN 978-0-684-10114-9.

External links

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