Individual variation behind the evolution of cooperation

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Life on Earth has two remarkable properties. The first is variation: even apart from the vast number of extant species, there are considerable differences between individuals within a single species. The second property is cooperation. It is surprising that until recently the interactions between these two properties have rarely been addressed from an evolutionary point of view. Here, I concentrate on how inter-individual differences influence the evolution of cooperation. First, I deal with cases where individuality is maintained by random processes like mutation or phenotypic noise. Second, I examine when differences in state cause differences in behaviour. Finally, I investigate the effects of individual role specialization. Variation can be important in several ways. Increased random variation can change the expectation about cooperativeness of future partners, altering behaviour in a current relationship. Differences in state may serve as a book-keeping mechanism that is necessary for the evolution of reciprocity. If the cost of cooperation can depend on state then strategic regulation of state makes it possible to coerce partners to cooperate. If conditions force individuals to specialize, cooperation becomes more valuable. My review of theoretical models suggests that variation plays an important role in the evolution of cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1687
Publication statusPublished - Feb 5 2016


  • Coevolution
  • Cooperation
  • Food sharing
  • Inter-individual variation
  • Parental care
  • State-dependence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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