American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

Symposium: “Deconstructing evolutionary game theory: coevolution of social behaviors with their evolutionary setting”

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Erol Akçay (Feb 2020)

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Evolution of social behaviors is one of the most fascinating and active fields of evolutionary biology. During the past half century, social evolution theory developed into a mature field with powerful tools to understand the dynamics of social traits such as cooperation under a wide range of conditions. In this paper, I argue that the next stage in the development of social evolution theory should consider the evolution of the setting in which social behaviors evolve. To that end, I propose a conceptual map of the components that make up the evolutionary setting of social behaviors, review existing work that considers the evolution of each component, and discuss potential future directions. The theoretical work reviewed here illustrates how unexpected dynamics can happen when the setting of social evolution itself is evolving, such as cooperation sometimes being self-limiting. I argue that a theory of how the setting of social evolution itself evolves will lead to a deeper understanding of when cooperation and other social behaviors evolve and diversify.