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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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    • "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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    • "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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