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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jul 21;95(15):8676-80.

The evolution of interspecific mutualisms.

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Zoology Institute, University of Basel, Rheinsprung 9, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland.


Interspecific mutualisms are widespread, but how they evolve is not clear. The Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma is the main theoretical tool to study cooperation, but this model ignores ecological differences between partners and assumes that amounts exchanged cannot themselves evolve. A more realistic model incorporating these features shows that strategies that succeed with fixed exchanges (e. g., Tit-for-Tat) cannot explain mutualism when exchanges vary because the amount exchanged evolves to 0. For mutualism to evolve, increased investments in a partner must yield increased returns, and spatial structure in competitive interactions is required. Under these biologically plausible assumptions, mutualism evolves with surprising ease. This suggests that, contrary to the basic premise of past theoretical analyses, overcoming a potential host's initial defenses may be a bigger obstacle for mutualism than the subsequent recurrence and spread of noncooperative mutants.

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