A polychromatic 'greenbeard' locus determines patterns of cooperation in a social amoeba

Nicole Gruenheit, Katie Parkinson, Balint Stewart, Jennifer A. Howie, Jason B. Wolf, Christopher R. L. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (SciVal)


Cheaters disrupt cooperation by reaping the benefits without paying their fair share of associated costs. Cheater impact can be diminished if cooperators display a tag ('greenbeard') and recognise and preferentially direct cooperation towards other tag carriers. Despite its popular appeal, the feasibility of such greenbeards has been questioned because the complex patterns of partner-specific cooperative behaviours seen in nature require greenbeards to come in different colours. Here we show that a locus ('Tgr') of a social amoeba represents a polychromatic greenbeard. Patterns of natural Tgr locus sequence polymorphisms predict partner-specific patterns of cooperation by underlying variation in partner-specific protein-protein binding strength and recognition specificity. Finally, Tgr locus polymorphisms increase fitness because they help avoid potential costs of cooperating with incompatible partners. These results suggest that a polychromatic greenbeard can provide a key mechanism for the evolutionary maintenance of cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14171
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2017


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