Elected: 1950
Discipline: Unspecified at this time
Professor Vero Copner Wynne-Edwards CBE FRSE
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Vero Wynne-Edwards, “Wynne” to his academic friends, was one of this century’s greatest scientific naturalists and original thinkers on population regulation in animals. The book for which he will always be remembered is Animal Dispersion in relation to Social Behaviour (1962) which was probably the most controversial to appear in biology in the sixties and seventies. At 650 pages it was the scholarly result of a life-long consideration of the processes limiting animal numbers. In it he proposed that animals collaborate socially for the benefit of the group, that they compete for territory and status rather than for food, with the losers patiently accepting their lot; and that animals are not, as Darwin supposed, always striving to increase their numbers but are instead programmed to regulate them. The mechanisms that prevent animals overexploiting their resources include social displays, territorial behaviour and communal roosting, which evolved by group selection. In Wynne-Edwards’ view, group selection operates by differential survival of populations. Those populations which showed self-restraint in reproduction and exploitation of resources, survived longer than more profligate groups, so that self-regulation of population size developed during the course of evolution. This ran counter to the conventional Darwinian view of natural selection which operates by differential survival of individuals.