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, 224 (3), 399-410

Evolution of Cooperation: Cooperation Defeats Defection in the Cornfield Model


Evolution of Cooperation: Cooperation Defeats Defection in the Cornfield Model

Johan H Koeslag et al. J Theor Biol.


"Cooperation" defines any behavior that enhances the fitness of a group (e.g. a community or species), but which, by its nature, can be exploited by selfish individuals, meaning, firstly, that selfish individuals derive an advantage from exploitation which is greater than the average advantage that accrues to unselfish individuals. Secondly, exploitation has no intrinsic fitness value except in the presence of the "cooperative behavior". The mathematics is described by the simple Prisoner's Dilemma Game (PDG). It has previously been shown that koinophilia (the avoidance of sexual mates displaying unusual or atypical phenotypic features, such as mutations) stabilizes any inherited strategy in the simple or iterated PDG, meaning that it cannot be displaced by rare forms of alternative behavior which arise through mutation or occasional migration. In the present model equal numbers of cooperators and defectors (in the simple PDG) were randomly spread in a two-dimensional "cornfield" with uniformly distributed resources. Every individual was koinophilic, and interacted (sexually and in the PDG tournaments) only with individuals from within its immediate neighborhood. This model therefore tested whether cooperation can outcompete defection or selfishness in a straight, initially equally matched, evolutionary battle. The results show that in the absence of koinophilia cooperation was rapidly driven to extinction. With koinophilia there was a very rapid loss of cooperators in the first few generations, but thereafter cooperation slowly spread, ultimately eliminating defection completely. This result was critically dependent on sampling effects of neighborhoods. Small samples (resulting from low population densities or small neighborhood sizes) increase the probability that a chance neighborhood comes to consist predominantly of cooperators. A sexual preference for the most common phenotype in the neighborhood then makes that phenotype more common still. Once this occurs cooperation's spread becomes almost inevitable.

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