The evolutionary ecology of deception

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Abstract

Through dishonest signals or actions, individuals often misinform others to their own benefit. We review recent literature to explore the evolutionary and ecological conditions for deception to be more likely to evolve and be maintained. We identify four conditions: (1) high misinformation potential through perceptual constraints of perceiver; (2) costs and benefits of responding to deception; (3) asymmetric power relationships between individuals and (4) exploitation of common goods. We discuss behavioural and physiological mechanisms that form a deception continuum from secrecy to overt signals. Deceptive tactics usually succeed by being rare and are often evolving under co-evolutionary arms races, sometimes leading to the evolution of polymorphism. The degree of deception can also vary depending on the environmental conditions. Finally, we suggest a conceptual framework for studying deception and highlight important questions for future studies.

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