Ecological and demographic correlates of cooperation from individual to budding dispersal

António M. M. Rodrigues, Tiffany B. Taylor

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Identifying the ecological and demographic factors that promote the evolution of cooperation is a major challenge for evolutionary biologists. Explanations for the adaptive evolution of cooperation seek to determine which factors make reproduction in cooperative groups more favourable than independent breeding or other selfish strategies. A vast majority of the hypotheses posit that cooperative groups emerge in the context of philopatry, high costs of dispersal, high population density and environmental stability. This route to cooperation, however, fails to explain a growing body of empirical evidence in which cooperation is not associated with one or more of these predictors. We propose an alternative evolutionary path towards the emergence of cooperation that accounts for the disparities observed in the current literature. We find that when dispersal is mediated by a group mode of dispersal, commonly termed budding dispersal, our mathematical model reveals an association between cooperation and immigration, lower costs of dispersal, low population density and environmental variability. Furthermore, by studying the continuum from the individual to the partial and full budding mode of dispersal, we can explicitly explain why the correlates of cooperation change under budding. This enables us to outline a general model for the evolution of cooperation that accounts for a substantial amount of empirical evidence. Our results suggest that natural selection may have favoured two major contrasting pathways for the evolution of cooperation depending on a set of key ecological and demographic factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1058-1070
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number7
Early online date21 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Altruism
  • behaviour
  • climate change
  • inclusive fitness
  • kin selection
  • movement ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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