The adaptive dynamics of altruism in spatially heterogeneous populations

Jean François Le Galliard, Regis Ferrière, Ulf Dieckmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


We study the spatial adaptive dynamics of a continuous trait that measures individual investment in altruism. Our study is based on an ecological model of a spatially heterogeneous population from which we derive an appropriate measure of fitness. The analysis of this fitness measure uncovers three different selective processes controlling the evolution of altruism: the direct physiological cost, the indirect genetic benefits of cooperative interactions, and the indirect genetic costs of competition for space. In our model, habitat structure and a continuous life cycle makes the cost of competing for space with relatives negligible. Our study yields a classification of adaptive patterns of altruism according to the shape of the costs of altruism (with decelerating, linear, or accelerating dependence on the investment in altruism). The invasion of altruism occurs readily in species with accelerating costs, but large mutations are critical for altruism to evolve in selfish species with decelerating costs. Strict selfishness is maintained by natural selection only under very restricted conditions. In species with rapidly accelerating costs, adaptation leads to an evolutionarily stable rate of investment in altruism that decreases smoothly with the level of mobility. A rather different adaptive pattern emerges in species with slowly accelerating costs: high altruism evolves at low mobility, whereas a quasi-selfish state is promoted in more mobile species. The high adaptive level of altruism can be predicted solely from habitat connectedness and physiological parameters that characterize the pattern of cost. We also show that environmental changes that cause increased mobility in those highly altruistic species can beget selection-driven self-extinction, which may contribute to the rarity of social species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Altruism
  • Kin competition
  • Kin selection
  • Mobility
  • Relatedness
  • Spatial heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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