The coevolutionary romance of social learning and parasitic behavior

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Richard McElreath


Once an animal begins to acquire behavior by social learning, it may be seduced by parasitic parasitic, behavior that reduces the animal's fitness and thereby increases its own spread. However, the animal's psychology will coevolve, potentially limiting the influence and spread of parasitic behavior. I revisit prominent models of the evolution of social learning and introduce the possibility of parasitic behavior. First, I explore a courtship between primitive social learning and parasitic behavior. Parasitic behavior can spread, but selection on the host then reduces social learning and limits its importance. Both parties are frustrated. In the second part, I study a reconciliation dynamic in which social learning becomes strategic about who it partners with. In this model, parasitic behavior can become prevalent and substantially reduce host fitness. However, it may also evolve to be mutualistic and raise the mean fitness of the host organism. When this occurs, natural selection may favor psychological susceptibility to parasitic behavior. Both social learning and socially learned behavior can enjoy a happy ending.

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