Negative Niche Construction Favors the Evolution of Cooperation

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Brian D ConnellyBenjamin Kerr


By benefitting others at a cost to themselves, cooperators face an ever present threat from defectors—individuals that avail themselves of the cooperative benefit without contributing. A longstanding challenge to evolutionary biology is to understand the mechanisms that support the many instances of cooperation that nevertheless exist. Hammarlund et al. recently demonstrated that cooperation can persist by hitchhiking along with beneficial non-social adaptations. Importantly, cooperators play an active role in this process. In spatially-structured environments, clustered cooperator populations reach greater densities, which creates more mutational opportunities to gain beneficial non-social adaptations. Cooperation rises in abundance by association with these adaptations. However, once adaptive opportunities have been exhausted, the ride abruptly ends as cooperators are displaced by adapted defectors. Using an agent-based model, we demonstrate that the selective feedback that is created as populations construct their local niches can maintain cooperation indefinitely. This cooperator success depends specifically on negative niche construction, which acts as a perpetual source of adaptive opportunities. As populations adapt, the...Continue Reading

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