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J Theor Biol. 2006 Jun 21;240(4):627-36. Epub 2005 Dec 13.

Spatial effects in social dilemmas.

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Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, One Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Social dilemmas and the evolutionary conundrum of cooperation are traditionally studied through various kinds of game theoretical models such as the prisoner's dilemma, public goods games, snowdrift games or by-product mutualism. All of them exemplify situations which are characterized by different degrees of conflicting interests between the individuals and the community. In groups of interacting individuals, cooperators produce a common good benefitting the entire group at some cost to themselves, whereas defectors attempt to exploit the resource by avoiding the costly contributions. Based on synergistic or discounted accumulation of cooperative benefits a unifying theoretical framework was recently introduced that encompasses all games that have traditionally been studied separately (Hauert, Michor, Nowak, Doebeli, 2005. Synergy and discounting of cooperation in social dilemmas. J. Theor. Biol., in press.). Within this framework we investigate the effects of spatial structure with limited local interactions on the evolutionary fate of cooperators and defectors. The quantitative effects of space turn out to be quite sensitive to the underlying microscopic update mechanisms but, more general, we demonstrate that in prisoner's dilemma type interactions spatial structure benefits cooperation-although the parameter range is quite limited-whereas in snowdrift type interactions spatial structure may be beneficial too, but often turns out to be detrimental to cooperation.

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