Synthesizing perspectives on the evolution of cooperation within and between species

Jessica L. Barker, Judith L. Bronstein, Maren L. Friesen, Emily I. Jones, H. Kern Reeve, Andrew G. Zink, Megan E. Frederickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Cooperation is widespread both within and between species, but are intraspecific and interspecific cooperation fundamentally similar or qualitatively different phenomena? This review evaluates this question, necessary for a general understanding of the evolution of cooperation. First, we outline three advantages of cooperation relative to noncooperation (acquisition of otherwise inaccessible goods and services, more efficient acquisition of resources, and buffering against variability), and predict when individuals should cooperate with a conspecific versus a heterospecific partner to obtain these advantages. Second, we highlight five axes along which heterospecific and conspecific partners may differ: relatedness and fitness feedbacks, competition and resource use, resource-generation abilities, relative evolutionary rates, and asymmetric strategy sets and outside options. Along all of these axes, certain asymmetries between partners are more common in, but not exclusive to, cooperation between species, especially complementary resource use and production. We conclude that cooperation within and between species share many fundamental qualities, and that differences between the two systems are explained by the various asymmetries between partners. Consideration of the parallels between intra- and interspecific cooperation facilitates application of well-studied topics in one system to the other, such as direct benefits within species and kin-selected cooperation between species, generating promising directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-825
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Competition
  • cooperation
  • interspecific interactions
  • mutualism
  • social evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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