Cooperating in the face of uncertainty: A consistent framework for understanding the evolution of cooperation
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The evolution of cooperative behaviour, whereby individuals enhance the fitness of others at an apparent cost to themselves, represents one of the greatest paradoxes of evolution. Individuals that engage in such cooperative behaviour can, however, be favoured by natural selection if cooperative actions confer higher fitness than alternative actions. To understand the evolution of cooperative behaviour, the direct and indirect genetic benefits that individuals accrue in the present and future must be summed - this can be accomplished without any reference to the colorful vocabulary typically associated with studies of cooperation. When benefits are accrued indirectly through relatives or directly in the future individuals must be able to assess and enhance their probability of accruing those benefits and behave accordingly. We suggest that, in the same way that studies of kin recognition systems improved our understanding of how individuals assess and enhance their probability of accruing indirect benefits, studies of various forms of inheritance and reciprocation recognition systems will improve our understanding of how individuals assess and enhance their probability of accruing future benefits. Recognizing the parallel between studies of indirect fitness and future fitness, at multiple levels of analysis, will move us toward a simpler and more consistent framework for understanding the evolution of cooperative behaviour.
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