Cheating has long-term consequences in the evolution of cooperation

Jul 04, 2007

Freeloaders can live on the fruits of the cooperation of others, but their selfishness can have long-term consequences, reports an evolutionary biologist from The University of Texas at Austin in a new study.

“There is a historical dimension to cooperation,” says Dr. Sam Brown, the Human Frontier Science Foundation Fellow in the Section of Integrative Biology. “The act of a cooperator can continue to give benefits even after the cooperator is dead. Conversely, cheating will have consequences in the future.”

Standard models of the evolution of cooperation assume that the benefits of cooperative versus selfish behavior depend only on the current abundance of cooperators in the population.

Brown has developed a new model showing that cooperators and cheaters can co-exist in a dynamic boom and bust state in the presence of long-lasting resources, known as “durable goods.”

Durable goods can outlast their producers, and then be passed on to future generations. They include things like antibiotics produced by populations of bacteria to kill off neighboring bacteria and public parks or buildings built by humans.

In the presence of a durable good, cheaters can increase in numbers with no immediate consequences. For example, cheaters could still enjoy the shelter of an ant nest or a building for some time even if it is not being maintained.

“But freeloaders can also increase so rapidly that in a generation’s time the whole building collapses,” says Brown.

“If you have social dilemmas [where there are cooperators and cheaters] mediated by these longstanding, durable entities like buildings, ant’s nests, or biofilms in bacteria, then you introduce an instability,” he says. “It’s almost as if there is a pact with the devil, because you pay nothing now for your cheating, but you pay double tomorrow, because everyone’s cheating and the costs come home to roost.”

With environmental pollution, for example, there is a delay in costs to cheaters that pollute, particularly if the environment is in a relatively pristine condition. Cheaters gain in the short-term by increasing their resources without dire effect. But over time, more and more cheaters pollute and it can suddenly become a problem.

Brown says that this new model recognizing the ubiquity of durable goods will have diverse consequences across many fields, including ecology, economics, medicine and political science.

His next step will be to test the ideas from his models in bacterial systems.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

Explore further: Diabetes drug found in freshwater is a potential cause of intersex fish

Related Stories

Nepal quake: Nearly 1,400 dead, Everest shaken (Update)

6 hours ago

Tens of thousands of people were spending the night in the open under a chilly and thunderous sky after a powerful earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, killing nearly 1,400, collapsing modern houses and ...

Russian hackers read Obama emails, report says

6 hours ago

Emails to and from President Barack Obama were read by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House's unclassified computer system, The New York Times said Saturday.

Supermarkets welcome cold-comfort edge of F1 aerofoils

11 hours ago

UK-based Williams Advanced Engineering, the technology and engineering services business of the Williams Group, has collaborated with UK-based Aerofoil Energy to develop an aerodynamic device that can reduce ...

Public boarding school—the way to solve educational ills?

15 hours ago

Buffalo's chronically struggling school system is considering an idea gaining momentum in other cities: public boarding schools that put round-the-clock attention on students and away from such daunting problems as poverty, ...

Recommended for you

York's anti-malarial plant given Chinese approval

Apr 24, 2015

A new hybrid plant used in anti-malarial drug production, developed by scientists at the University of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), is now registered as a new variety in China.

The appeal of being anti-GMO

Apr 24, 2015

A team of Belgian philosophers and plant biotechnologists have turned to cognitive science to explain why opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has become so widespread, despite positive contributions ...

Micro fingers for arranging single cells

Apr 24, 2015

Functional analysis of a cell, which is the fundamental unit of life, is important for gaining new insights into medical and pharmaceutical fields. For efficiently studying cell functions, it is essential ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.