Eco-Evolutionary Feedback and the Invasion of Cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemma Games

23 January 2012

Unveiling the origin and forms of cooperation in nature poses profound challenges in evolutionary ecology. The prisoner’s dilemma game is an important metaphor for studying the evolution of cooperation. We here classified potential mechanisms for cooperation evolution into schemes of frequency- and density-dependent selection, and focused on the density-dependent selection in the ecological prisoner’s dilemma games. We found that, although assortative encounter is still the necessary condition in ecological games for cooperation evolution, a harsh environment, indicated by a high mortality, can foster the invasion of cooperation. The Hamilton rule provides a fundamental condition for the evolution of cooperation by ensuring an enhanced relatedness between players in low-density populations. Incorporating ecological dynamics into evolutionary games opens up a much wider window for the evolution of cooperation, and exhibits a variety of complex behaviors of dynamics, such as limit and heteroclinic cycles. An alternative evolutionary, or rather succession, sequence was proposed that cooperation first appears in harsh environments, followed by the invasion of defection, which leads to a common catastrophe. The rise of cooperation (and altruism), thus, could be much easier in the density-dependent ecological games than in the classic frequency-dependent evolutionary games.