Effects of group size and population size on the evolutionary stability of cooperation
Journal Articles

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Overview

abstract

Evolutionary game theory has classically been developed under the implicit assumption of an infinite population. Exact analytical results for finite populations are rare, and those that exist apply to situations in which strategy sets are discrete. We rigorously analyze a standard model for the evolution of cooperation (the multi-player continuous-strategy snowdrift game) and show that in many situations in which there is a cooperative evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) if the population is \emph{infinite}, there is no cooperative ESS if the population is \emph{finite} (no matter how large). In these cases, contributing \emph{nothing} is a globally convergently stable finite-population ESS, implying that apparent evolution of cooperation in such games is an artifact of the infinite population approximation. The key issue is that if the size of groups that play the game exceeds a critical proportion of the population then the infinite-population approximation predicts the wrong evolutionary outcome (in addition, the critical proportion itself depends on the population size). Our results are robust to the underlying selection process.