The tragedy of the commons in evolutionary biology. Trends Ecol Evol

Division of Behavioural Ecology, Institute of Zoology, University of Bern, Wohlenstrasse 50a, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland.
Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Impact Factor: 15.35). 01/2008; 22(12):643-51. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2007.07.009
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons is an analogy that shows how individuals driven by self-interest can end up destroying the resource upon which they all depend. The proposed solutions for humans rely on highly advanced skills such as negotiation, which raises the question of how non-human organisms manage to resolve similar tragedies. In recent years, this question has promoted evolutionary biologists to apply the tragedy of the commons to a wide range of biological systems. Here, we provide tools to categorize different types of tragedy and review different mechanisms, including kinship, policing and diminishing returns that can resolve conflicts that could otherwise end in tragedy. A central open question, however, is how often biological systems are able to resolve these scenarios rather than drive themselves extinct through individual-level selection favouring self-interested behaviours.

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Available from: Daniel Rankin, Jan 22, 2015
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    • "Several studies showed that the presence of belowground neighbours results in root overproliferation of plants at the expense of their seed production in some legume species (Glycine max, Gersani et al. 2001; Phaseolus vulgaris, Maina, Brown & Gersani 2002; Pisum sativum, O'Brien, Gersani & Brown 2005). These findings have been considered in an evolutionarily game-theoretical context (see Schieving & Poorter 1999; Anten & During 2011; McNickle & Dybzinski 2013 for detailed explanation) and framed as a 'tragedy of the commons' (TOC, Hardin 1968), a situation in which an arms race in root competition results in reduced seed production of a group or population of plants (Rankin, Bargum & Kokko 2007). However, recent work observed patterns in root responses to neighbours that were not compatible with the TOC hypothesis. "
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    ABSTRACT: 1. Plants are able to detect the presence of their neighbours below-ground. The associated root responses may affect plant performance, plant–plant interactions and community dynamics, but the extent and direction of these responses is heavily debated. 2. Some studies suggest that plants will over-proliferate roots in response to neighbours at the expense of reproduction, which was framed as a ‘tragedy of the commons’. Others propose an ‘ideal free distribution’ hypothesis stating that plants produce roots simply as a function of the amount of available nutrients. However, experimental evidence for either hypothesis that is unbiased by confounding effects of rooting volume and plant size in their experimental set-ups is still lacking. 3. We grew split-root pea plants in the presence or absence of a below-ground neighbour at a range of rooting volumes, while providing equal amounts of nutrients per plant. Path analyses were used to disentangle the direct effects of neighbour presence on allocation patterns from the confounding effects of rooting volume and plant size. 4. Within the chosen range of rooting volumes, the presence of a below-ground neighbour gen- erally reduced plant root mass by 21% and total mass by 9%. A doubling of rooting volume generally increased plant root mass by 22% and total mass by 11%. Pod mass was only directly and positively correlated with vegetative mass. 5. The presence of a below-ground neighbour induced less root allocation but more pod alloca- tion, whereas increased rooting volume caused a reduction in reproductive allocation. A large part of these effects, however, was indirectly mediated through the influence on plant total mass. 6. Synthesis. Not considering the effects of rooting volume and plant size may lead to misinter- pretations of plant growth strategies in response to neighbours. Accounting for these factors, we found pea allocating less mass to roots in the presence of a below-ground neighbour. The obtained results can help to reconcile the various responses to below-ground neighbours as they are published in the literature.
    Functional Ecology 04/2015; DOI:10.1111/1365-2435.12450 · 4.86 Impact Factor
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    • "Evolution is often perceived as being " red in tooth and claw " and its processes interpreted through some variation of the " survival of the fittest " principle (Russe 1999). And yet, nature teems with instances of seemingly altruistic acts: organisms help one another, paying a direct energetic or reproductive cost without receiving an obvious or immediate benefit (Axelrod 1984; Dugatkin 1997; Rankin et al. 2007). Given that each vampire bat that regurgitates blood to a nest mate effectively challenges one of the basic tenants of modern evolutionary theory, it is no wonder that the evolution of cooperation remains a popular and contentious topic (Wingreen and Levin 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Natural cooperative systems take many forms, ranging from one-dimensional cyanobacteria arrays to fractal-like biofilms. We use in silico experimental systems to study a previously overlooked factor in the evolution of cooperation, physical shape of the population. We compare the emergence and maintenance of cooperation in populations of digital organisms that inhabit bulky (100×100 cells) or slender (4×2500) toroidal grids. Although more isolated sub-populations of secretors in a slender population could be expected to favor cooperation, we find the opposite: secretion evolves to higher levels in bulky populations. We identify the mechanistic explanation for the shape effect by analyzing the lifecycle and dynamics of cooperator patches, from their emergence and growth, to invasion by non-cooperators and extinction. Because they are constrained by the population shape, the cooperator patches expand less in slender than in bulky populations, leading to fewer cooperators, less public good secretion, and generally lower cooperation. The patch dynamics and mechanisms of shape effect are robust across several digital cooperation systems and independent of the underlying basis for cooperation (public good secretion or a cooperation game). Our results urge for a greater consideration of population shape in the study of the evolution of cooperation across experimental and modeling systems.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Evolution 01/2015; 69(3). DOI:10.1111/evo.12616 · 4.66 Impact Factor
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    • "In bacteria, the production of various substances such as extracellular polymers (Xavier and Foster 2007) or bacteriocins (Gardner et al. 2004) can benefit the producing bacteria and their clones, but can also harm neighboring bacteria. Competition may drive individuals to produce these substances in order to improve their individual fitness, resulting in reduced overall group productivity (Rankin et al. 2007). Reproductive competition between ant queens sharing the same colony forces them to overproduce eggs, enabling the workers to skew the sex ratio against the optimum of the queens (Fournier et al. 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: Interference competition may lead to a tragedy of the commons in which individuals driven by self-interest reduce the fitness of the entire group. We investigated this hypothesis in Allenby's gerbils, Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi, by comparing foraging behaviors of single vs. pairs of gerbils. We recorded strong interference competition within the foraging pairs. Competition reduced the amount of time the gerbils spent foraging, as well as foraging efficiency since part of the foragers' attention was directed toward detecting competitors (apparent predation risk). Single gerbils harvested significantly more food than the combined efforts of two gerbils foraging together. Competition reduced the success of both individuals within a pair by more than 50%, making this a case of the tragedy of the commons where each individual's investment in competition reduces the success of all individuals within the group, including its own. Despite their great costs, competitive behaviors will be selected for as long as one individual achieves higher fitness than the other. In nature, interspecific interactions, such as predation risk, may act to reduce and regulate the deleterious effects of intraspecific competition.
    Ecology 01/2015; 96(1):54-61. DOI:10.1890/14-0130.1 · 5.00 Impact Factor
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