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Evolution. 2012 Mar;66(3):651-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01479.x. Epub 2011 Oct 28.

The evolution of generalized reciprocity on social interaction networks.

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1
Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Wohlenstrasse 50a, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland. sander.vandoorn@iee.unibe.ch

Abstract

Generalized reciprocity (help anyone, if helped by someone) is a minimal strategy capable of supporting cooperation between unrelated individuals. Its simplicity makes it an attractive model to explain the evolution of reciprocal altruism in animals that lack the information or cognitive skills needed for other types of reciprocity. Yet, generalized reciprocity is anonymous and thus defenseless against exploitation by defectors. Recognizing that animals hardly ever interact randomly, we investigate whether social network structure can mitigate this vulnerability. Our results show that heterogeneous interaction patterns strongly support the evolution of generalized reciprocity. The future probability of being rewarded for an altruistic act is inversely proportional to the average connectivity of the social network when cooperators are rare. Accordingly, sparse networks are conducive to the invasion of reciprocal altruism. Moreover, the evolutionary stability of cooperation is enhanced by a modular network structure. Communities of reciprocal altruists are protected against exploitation, because modularity increases the mean access time, that is, the average number of steps that it takes for a random walk on the network to reach a defector. Sparseness and community structure are characteristic properties of vertebrate social interaction patterns, as illustrated by network data from natural populations ranging from fish to primates.

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