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PLoS One. 2010 Nov 29;5(11):e14121. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014121.

Evolution of cooperative cross-feeding could be less challenging than originally thought.

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Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


The act of cross-feeding whereby unrelated species exchange nutrients is a common feature of microbial interactions and could be considered a form of reciprocal altruism or reciprocal cooperation. Past theoretical work suggests that the evolution of cooperative cross-feeding in nature may be more challenging than for other types of cooperation. Here we re-evaluate a mathematical model used previously to study persistence of cross-feeding and conclude that the maintenance of cross-feeding interactions could be favoured for a larger parameter ranges than formerly observed. Strikingly, we also find that large populations of cross-feeders are not necessarily vulnerable to extinction from an initially small number of cheats who receive the benefit of cross-feeding but do not reciprocate in this cooperative interaction. This could explain the widespread cooperative cross-feeding observed in natural populations.

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