Strategic investment explains patterns of cooperation and cheating in a microbe.
ABSTRACT: Contributing to cooperation is typically costly, while its rewards are often available to all members of a social group. So why should individuals be willing to pay these costs, especially if they could cheat by exploiting the investments of others? Kin selection theory broadly predicts that individuals should invest more into cooperation if their relatedness to group members is high (assuming they can discriminate kin from nonkin). To better understand how relatedness affects cooperation, we derived the ?Collective Investment" game, which provides quantitative predictions for patterns of strategic investment depending on the level of relatedness. We then tested these predictions by experimentally manipulating relatedness (genotype frequencies) in mixed cooperative aggregations of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, which builds a stalk to facilitate spore dispersal. Measurements of stalk investment by natural strains correspond to the predicted patterns of relatedness-dependent strategic investment, wherein investment by a strain increases with its relatedness to the group. Furthermore, if overall group relatedness is relatively low (i.e., no strain is at high frequency in a group) strains face a scenario akin to the "Prisoner's Dilemma" and suffer from insufficient collective investment. We find that strains employ relatedness-dependent segregation to avoid these pernicious conditions. These findings demonstrate that simple organisms like D. discoideum are not restricted to being ?cheaters" or ?cooperators" but instead measure their relatedness to their group and strategically modulate their investment into cooperation accordingly. Consequently, all individuals will sometimes appear to cooperate and sometimes cheat due to the dynamics of strategic investing.
Project description:The control of cheating is important for understanding major transitions in evolution, from the simplest genes to the most complex societies. Cooperative systems can be ruined if cheaters that lower group productivity are able to spread. Kin-selection theory predicts that high genetic relatedness can limit cheating, because separation of cheaters and cooperators limits opportunities to cheat and promotes selection against low-fitness groups of cheaters. Here, we confirm this prediction for the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum; relatedness in natural wild groups is so high that socially destructive cheaters should not spread. We illustrate in the laboratory how high relatedness can control a mutant that would destroy cooperation at low relatedness. Finally, we demonstrate that, as predicted, mutant cheaters do not normally harm cooperation in a natural population. Our findings show how altruism is preserved from the disruptive effects of such mutant cheaters and how exceptionally high relatedness among cells is important in promoting the cooperation that underlies multicellular development.
Project description:Kin discrimination describes the differential interaction of organisms with kin versus non-kin. In microorganisms, many genetic loci act as effective kin-discrimination systems, such as kin-directed help and non-kin-directed harm. Another important example is facultative cooperation, where cooperators increase their investment in group-directed cooperation with the abundance of their kin in the group. Many of these kin-discrimination loci are highly diversified, yet it remains unclear what evolutionary mechanisms maintain this diversity, and how it is affected by population structure. Here, we demonstrate the unique dependence of kin-discriminative interactions on population structure, and how this could explain facultative-cooperation allele-diversity. We show mathematically that low relatedness between microbes in non-clonal social groups is needed to maintain the diversity of facultative-cooperation alleles, while high clonality is needed to stabilize this diversity against cheating. Interestingly, we demonstrate with simulations that such population structure occurs naturally in expanding microbial colonies. Finally, analysis of experimental data of quorum-sensing mediated facultative cooperation, in Bacillus subtilis, demonstrates the relevance of our results to realistic microbial interactions, due to their intrinsic non-linear frequency dependence. Our analysis therefore stresses the impact of clonality on the interplay between exploitation and kin discrimination and portrays a way for the evolution of facultative cooperation.
Project description:Free-living cells of the social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum can aggregate and develop into multicellular fruiting bodies in which many die altruistically as they become stalk cells that support the surviving spores. Dictyostelium cells exhibit kin discrimination--a potential defense against cheaters, which sporulate without contributing to the stalk. Kin discrimination depends on strain relatedness, and the polymorphic genes tgrB1 and tgrC1 are potential components of that mechanism. Here, we demonstrate a direct role for these genes in kin discrimination. We show that a matching pair of tgrB1 and tgrC1 alleles is necessary and sufficient for attractive self-recognition, which is mediated by differential cell-cell adhesion. We propose that TgrB1 and TgrC1 proteins mediate this adhesion through direct binding. This system is a genetically tractable ancient model of eukaryotic self-recognition.
Project description:Interaction conditions can change the balance of cooperation and conflict in multicellular groups. After aggregating together, cells of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum may migrate as a group (known as a slug) to a new location. We consider this migration stage as an arena for social competition and conflict because the cells in the slug may not be from a genetically homogeneous population. In this study, we examined the interplay of two seemingly diametric actions, the solitary action of kin recognition and the collective action of slug migration in D. discoideum, to more fully understand the effects of social competition on fitness over the entire lifecycle. We compare slugs composed of either genetically homogenous or heterogeneous cells that have migrated or remained stationary in the social stage of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. After migration of chimeric slugs, we found that facultative cheating is reduced, where facultative cheating is defined as greater contribution to spore relative to stalk than found for that clone in the clonal state. In addition our results support previous findings that competitive interactions in chimeras diminish slug migration distance. Furthermore, fruiting bodies have shorter stalks after migration, even accounting for cell numbers at that time. Taken together, these results show that migration can alleviate the conflict of interests in heterogeneous slugs. It aligns their interest in finding a more advantageous place for dispersal, where shorter stalks suffice, which leads to a decrease in cheating behavior.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The stability of cooperative interactions among different species can be compromised by cheating. In the plant-mycorrhizal fungi symbiosis, a single mycorrhizal network may interact with many plants, providing the opportunity for individual plants to cheat by obtaining nutrients from the fungi without donating carbon. Here we determine whether kin selection may favour plant investment in the mycorrhizal network, reducing the incentive to cheat when relatives interact with a single network. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:We show that mycorrhizal network size and root colonization were greater when Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. was grown with siblings compared to strangers. Soil fungal abundance was positively correlated with group leaf nitrogen, and increased root colonization was associated with a reduced number of pathogen-induced root lesions, indicating greater benefit to plants grown with siblings. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:Plants can benefit their relatives through investment in mycorrhizal fungi, and kin selection in plants could promote the persistence of the mycorrhizal symbiosis.
Project description:The evolution of sociality and altruism is enigmatic because cooperators are constantly threatened by cheaters who benefit from cooperation without incurring its full cost [1, 2]. Kin recognition is the ability to recognize and cooperate with genetically close relatives. It has also been proposed as a potential mechanism that limits cheating [3, 4], but there has been no direct experimental support for that possibility. Here we show that kin recognition protects cooperators against cheaters. The social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum cooperate by forming multicellular aggregates that develop into fruiting bodies of viable spores and dead stalk cells. Cheaters preferentially differentiate into spores while their victims die as stalk cells in chimeric aggregates. We engineered syngeneic cheaters and victims that differed only in their kin-recognition genes, tgrB1 and tgrC1, and in a single cheater allele and found that the victims escaped exploitation by different types of nonkin cheaters. This protection depends on kin-recognition-mediated segregation because it is compromised when we disrupt strain segregation. These findings provide direct evidence for the role of kin recognition in cheater control and suggest a mechanism for the maintenance of stable cooperative systems.
Project description:Kin selected benefits of cooperation result in pronounced kin discrimination and nepotism in many social species and favour the evolution of sociality. However, low variability in relatedness among group members, infrequent competitive interactions with non-relatives, and direct benefits of cooperation may relax selection for nepotism. We tested this prediction in a permanently social spider, Stegodyphus dumicola that appears to fulfil these conditions. Sociality is a derived trait, and kin discrimination exists in sub-social closely related congeners and is likely a selective force in the sub-social route to permanent sociality in spiders. We examined whether social spiders show nepotism in cooperative feeding when genetic relatedness among group members was experimentally varied. We found no effect of relatedness on feeding efficiency, growth rate or participation in feeding events. Previous studies on sub-social species showed benefits of communal feeding with kin, indicating nepotistic cooperation. The lack of evidence for nepotism in the social species suggests that kin discrimination has been lost or is irrelevant in communal feeding. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the role of nepotism is diminished when cooperation evolves in certain genetic and ecological contexts, e.g. when intra-group genetic relatedness is homogeneous and encounters with competitors are rare.
Project description:Self and kin discrimination are observed in most kingdoms of life and are mediated by highly polymorphic plasma membrane proteins. Sequence polymorphism, which is essential for effective recognition, is maintained by balancing selection. Dictyostelium discoideum are social amoebas that propagate as unicellular organisms but aggregate upon starvation and form fruiting bodies with viable spores and dead stalk cells. Aggregative development exposes Dictyostelium to the perils of chimerism, including cheating, which raises questions about how the victims survive in nature and how social cooperation persists. Dictyostelids can minimize the cost of chimerism by preferential cooperation with kin, but the mechanisms of kin discrimination are largely unknown. Dictyostelium lag genes encode transmembrane proteins with multiple immunoglobulin (Ig) repeats that participate in cell adhesion and signaling. Here, we describe their role in kin discrimination. We show that lagB1 and lagC1 are highly polymorphic in natural populations and that their sequence dissimilarity correlates well with wild-strain segregation. Deleting lagB1 and lagC1 results in strain segregation in chimeras with wild-type cells, whereas elimination of the nearly invariant homolog lagD1 has no such consequences. These findings reveal an early evolutionary origin of kin discrimination and provide insight into the mechanism of social recognition and immunity.
Project description:Many studies have attempted to explain the evolution of cooperation, yet little attention has been paid to what factors control the amount or kind of cooperation performed. Kin selection theory suggests that more cooperation, or help, should be given by relatives. However, recent theory suggests that under specific ecological and demographic conditions, unrelated individuals must 'pay to stay' in the group and therefore may help more. We tested these contrasting predictions using the cooperatively breeding fish, Neolamprologus pulcher, and found that the degree of work effort by helpers depended on which helping behaviours were considered and on their level of relatedness to the breeding male or female. In the field, helpers unrelated to the breeding male performed more territory defence, while helpers unrelated to the breeding female contributed less to territory defence. In the laboratory, unrelated group members helped more. Our work demonstrates that a number of factors in addition to kinship shape cooperative investment patterns.
Project description:Social Hymenoptera have played a leading role in development and testing of kin selection theory. Inclusive fitness models, following from Hamilton's rule, successfully predict major life history characteristics, such as biased sex investment ratios and conflict over parentage of male offspring. However, kin selection models poorly predict patterns of caste-biasing nepotism and reproductive skew within groups unless kin recognition constraints or group-level selection is also invoked. These successes and failures mirror the underlying kin recognition mechanisms. With reliable environmental cues, such as the sex of offspring or the origin of male eggs, predictions are supported. When only genetic recognition cues are potentially available, predictions are not supported. Mathematical simulations demonstrate that these differing mechanisms for determining kinship produce very different patterns of behavior. Decisions based on environmental cues for relatedness result in a robust mixture of cooperation and noncooperation depending on whether or not Hamilton's rule is met. In contrast, cooperation evolves under a wider range of conditions and to higher frequencies with genetic kin recognition as shared greenbeard traits. This "excess of niceness" matches the existing patterns in caste bias and reproductive skew; individuals often help others at an apparent cost to their inclusive fitness. The results further imply a potential for greenbeard-type kin recognition to create arbitrary runaway social selection for shared genetic traits. Suggestive examples in social evolution may be alloparental care and unicoloniality in ants. Differences in kin recognition mechanisms also can have consequences for maintenance of advantageous genetic diversity within populations.