Graduate Research School Available Projects Demographic models of the evolution of cooperation

Demographic models of the evolution of cooperation

Title of Project

Demographic models of the evolution of cooperation


Dr Martijn van de Pol, Dr Lyanne Brouwer

College or Research Centre

College of Science & Engineering

Summary of Project

Cooperation has driven many major transitions in the evolution of life, such as the transition from solitary individuals to group living and social societies. Cooperative breeding is an extreme example of group living in which some individuals forego their own opportunity to produce offspring and instead help other group members to reproduce. Kin selection is thought to be an important driver of such behaviour when the help is directed towards genetically related individuals. However, there may also be other more direct benefits of group living (e.g. increased foraging or protection in groups) that do not include kin selection considerations. Furthermore, it is often ignored that there are also costs to group living due to competition for resources. To determine the relative important of (i) direct benefits and costs of group living and (ii) indirect benefits and costs due to kin selection, one needs to determine the overall inclusive fitness outcomes for individuals. Current theoretical inclusive fitness models have proven to be challenging to apply to empirical data, as they do not align with what can be measured in the field. This project could develop demographic models of inclusive fitness that allow us to determine the selective forces on behavioural decisions on group living, and decompose the contribution of both direct and indirect costs and benefits to the evolution of group living. Matrix population models and the use of reproductive values as an integrative fitness measure can be applied within the context of kin selection theory, such that they are parameterizable with empirical data. Empirical data from a long-term study on Australian cooperatively breeding birds is available to look at the selective forces on decisions to join and leave groups, and how this varies among group members (intra-group conflict) and depends on the environment (how does climate change affect group living?).

Key Words

Cooperation; demographic model; kin selection; behaviour

Would suit an applicant who

has an interest in ecological modelling.

Updated: 15 Nov 2021