The Secret Economic Lives of Animals




  • If Adam Smith had strapped on a bee suit—or a safari jacket, or a scuba mask—he could have discovered that the animal kingdom is, in fact, a chamber of commerce.
  • “Partner choice is the main thing driving any market,”
  • Noë and Hammerstein felt their paper laid out a radical new way to understand cooperation in nature, but there was not much immediate enthusiasm from their peers. “Because it was not in the big journals, it took off very slowly,”
  • In one study, Bshary found that cleaner wrasses outperformed chimpanzees and orangutans on a cognitive test to maximize long-term food rewards. On the coral reef, it pays to be economical: In all his years of observation, Bshary has only once seen a cleaner wrasse eaten by another fish after it left its station and strayed into the open sea.
  • A plant has no brain, obviously, but the engine of most biological exchanges isn’t intelligence—it’s natural selection. “It’s like an enormous mathematical machinery,” says Hammerstein. Each new generation produces variants of behavior. Some variants prove beneficial and lead to higher reproductive output. “In the end,” Hammerstein says, “you get something that looks to an economist like a rational result.”
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