Joint evolution of multiple social traits: a kin selection analysis

Sam P. Brown, Peter D. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


General models of the evolution of cooperation, altruism and other social behaviours have focused almost entirely on single traits, whereas it is clear that social traits commonly interact. We develop a general kin-selection framework for the evolution of social behaviours in multiple dimensions. We show that whenever there are interactions among social traits new behaviours can emerge that are not predicted by one-dimensional analyses. For example, a prohibitively costly cooperative trait can ultimately be favoured owing to initial evolution in other (cheaper) social traits that in turn change the cost-benefit ratio of the original trait. To understand these behaviours, we use a two-dimensional stability criterion that can be viewed as an extension of Hamilton's rule. Our principal example is the social dilemma posed by, first, the construction and, second, the exploitation of a shared public good. We find that, contrary to the separate one-dimensional analyses, evolutionary feedback between the two traits can cause an increase in the equilibrium level of selfish exploitation with increasing relatedness, while both social (production plus exploitation) and asocial (neither) strategies can be locally stable. Our results demonstrate the importance of emergent stability properties of multidimensional social dilemmas, as one-dimensional stability in all component dimensions can conceal multidimensional instability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-422
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1680
Early online date14 Oct 2009
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2010


  • inclusive fitness
  • public goods
  • exploitation
  • altruism
  • cooperation
  • selfishness

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