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Nat Commun. 2013;4:2453. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3453.

Resource heterogeneity can facilitate cooperation.

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1] Evolution and Ecology Program, International Institute for Advanced System Analysis, Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria [2] Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science, Kirchplatz 1, D-82049 Munich/Pullach, Germany [3] Department of Plant Systematics, Ecology and Theoretical Biology, Institute of Biology, Eötvös University, Pázmány Péter sétány 1/C, 1117 Budapest, Hungary [4] Research Group of Theoretical Biology and Evolutionary Ecology, Eötvös University and The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Pázmány P. sétány 1/C, H-1117 Budapest, Hungary.


Although social structure is known to promote cooperation, by locally exposing selfish agents to their own deeds, studies to date assumed that all agents have access to the same level of resources. This is clearly unrealistic. Here we find that cooperation can be maintained when some agents have access to more resources than others. Cooperation can then emerge even in populations in which the temptation to defect is so strong that players would act fully selfishly if their resources were distributed uniformly. Resource heterogeneity can thus be crucial for the emergence and maintenance of cooperation. We also show that resource heterogeneity can hinder cooperation once the temptation to defect is significantly lowered. In all cases, the level of cooperation can be maximized by managing resource heterogeneity.

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