The Durability of Public Goods Changes the Dynamics and Nature of Social Dilemmas
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An implicit assumption underpins basic models of the evolution of cooperation, mutualism and altruism: The benefits (or pay-offs) of cooperation and defection are defined by the current frequency or distribution of cooperators. In social dilemmas involving durable public goods (group resources that can persist in the environment–ubiquitous from microbes to humans) this assumption is violated. Here, we examine the consequences of relaxing this assumption, allowing pay-offs to depend on both current and past numbers of cooperators. We explicitly trace the dynamic of a public good created by cooperators, and define pay-offs in terms of the current public good. By raising the importance of cooperative history in determining the current fate of cooperators, durable public goods cause novel dynamics (e.g., transient increases in cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemmas, oscillations in Snowdrift Games, or shifts in invasion thresholds in Stag-hunt Games), while changes in durability can transform one game into another, by moving invasion thresholds for cooperation or conditions for coexistence with defectors. This enlarged view challenges our understanding of social cheats. For instance, groups of cooperators can do worse than groups of defectors, if they inherit fewer public goods, while a rise in defectors no longer entails a loss of social benefits, at least not in the present moment (as highlighted by concerns over environmental lags). Wherever durable public goods have yet to reach a steady state (for instance due to external perturbations), the history of cooperation will define the ongoing dynamics of cooperators.
CitationBrown SP, Taddei F (2007) The Durability of Public Goods Changes the Dynamics and Nature of Social Dilemmas. PLoS ONE 2(7): e593. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000593
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