Mobility can promote the evolution of cooperation via emergent self-assortment dynamics

Cooperation among animals is ubiquitous. In a cooperative interaction, the cooperator confers a benefit to its partner at a personal cost. How does natural selection favour such a costly behaviour? Classical theories argue that cooperative interactions among genetic relatives, reciprocal cooperators, or among individuals within groups in viscous population structures are necessary to maintain cooperation. However, many organisms are mobile, and live in dynamic (fission-fusion) groups that constantly merge and split. In such populations, the above mechanisms may be inadequate to explain cooperation. Here, we develop a minimal model that explicitly accounts for mobility and cohesion among organisms. We find that mobility can support cooperation via emergent dynamic groups, even in the absence of previously known mechanisms. Our results may offer insights into the evolution of cooperation in animals that live in fission fusion groups, such as birds, fish or mammals, or microbes living in turbulent media, such as in oceans or in the bloodstreams of animal hosts.


Joshi J, Couzin ID, Levin SA, Guttal V (2017) Mobility can promote the evolution of cooperation via emergent self-assortment dynamics. PLoS Comput Biol13(9): e1005732.