I was chating with a friend the other day and we got on the subject of dating and sex, which quickly led to evolution (this always happens; we're biology students). Anyway, my friend remarks that strong, confrontational male herd animals (in general; we weren't discussing a particular species) are "fitter" than sneaky fuckers. Thing is, the situation we were discussing is one where the genetics of the herd are relatively stable and the average strength, speed, whatever does not increase over time. We were also considering the situation that they were like this for a very long time and thus, presumably, had reached an evolutionarily stable equilibrium.
My argument was this: if they're in equilibrium, so the frequencies aren't changing in any significant way over many generations, then there is no reason to assume that one strategy is more successful than the other. Indeed, if there is a direct genetic link to the strategy, then they are exactly as successful as each other; this is rather harder to predict if an individual's behaviour depends on the others around him, but there's still no reason to assume one is more successful. After some thought, I think I see where our difference of opinion arises from.
I've been looking at the rate of spread of an allele, whereas I think he was looking at the overall frequency of the allele. For instance, if a particular locus for a gene in a breeding population was filled by allele A 90% of the time and allele B 10% of the time, and this did not change over several generations, my friend would declare allele A to be fitter (since there are more), whereas I would declare them to be equally valid (because they are propogating at the same rate).
So after all that, my question is -- what is the correct way to compare alleles or traits like this? After a moment's thought I can see how using the majority looks like a valid strategy, but it seems so... simplistic when it comes to strategies (or alleles, or whatever) that are strongly influenced by the existence of each other. I've always assumed that rate of propogation was the relevant thing.
We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.