A mechanism for the evolution of altruism among nonkin: positive assortment through environmental feedback

The American Naturalist
John W Pepper, Barbara B Smuts


The evolution of altruism often requires genetic similarity among interactors. For structured populations in which a social trait affects all group members, this entails positive assortment, meaning that cooperators and noncooperators tend to be segregated into different groups. Several authors have claimed that mechanisms other than common descent can produce positive assortment, but this claim has not been generally accepted. Here, we describe one such mechanism. The process of "environmental feedback" requires only that the cooperative trait affects the quality of the local environment and that individuals are more likely to leave low-quality than high-quality environments. We illustrate this dynamic using an agent-based spatial model of feeding restraint. Depending on parameter settings, results included both positive assortment (required for the evolution of altruism) and negative assortment (required for the evolution of spite). The mechanism of environmental feedback appears to be a general one that could play a role in the evolution of many forms of cooperation.


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