Evolution of restraint in a structured rock–paper–scissors community

Evolution of restraint in a structured rock–paper–scissors community

Joshua R. Nahum, Brittany N. Harding, and Benjamin Kerr

PNAS , Published online before print June 20, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1100296108


It is not immediately clear how costly behavior that benefits others evolves by natural selection. By saving on inherent costs, individuals that do not contribute socially have a selective advantage over altruists if both types receive equal benefits. Restrained consumption of a common resource is a form of altruism. The cost of this kind of prudent behavior is that restrained individuals give up resources to less-restrained individuals. The benefit of restraint is that better resource management may prolong the persistence of the group. One way to dodge the problem of defection is for altruists to interact disproportionately with other altruists. With limited dispersal, restrained individuals persist because of interaction with like types, whereas it is the unrestrained individuals that must face the negative long-term consequences of their rapacity. Here, we study the evolution of restraint in a community of three competitors exhibiting a nontransitive (rock–paper–scissors) relationship. The nontransitivity ensures a form of negative feedback, whereby improvement in growth of one competitor has the counterintuitive consequence of lowering the density of that improved player. This negative feedback generates detrimental long-term consequences for unrestrained growth. Using both computer simulations and evolution experiments with a nontransitive community of Escherichia coli, we find that restrained growth can evolve under conditions of limited dispersal in which negative feedback is present. This research, thus, highlights a set of ecological conditions sufficient for the evolution of one form of altruism.

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