On the limits of interpreting some plastic responses through a cooperator/cheater prism. A comment on Harrison

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Abstract

Micro-organisms are known to exhibit phenotypic plasticity in response to changes in their environment. Recent studies have shown that a parasite strain can adjust its host exploitation strategies to the presence of unrelated strains, e.g. for Plasmodium chabaudi by adjusting its sex-ratio. J. Evol. Biol. 2013; 26: 1370–1378 claims to report a similar plastic response to the presence of unrelated strains in the case of siderophore-producing bacteria. I argue that she does not provide sufficient evidence to support the interpretation of the plastic response she observes (increasing siderophore production in the presence of cheaters) through a cooperator/cheater framework. I show that known plastic responses to physicochemical factors, such as siderophore or iron concentration, seem to offer a clearer and more parsimonious explanation. Finally, I also challenge the parallel she makes between the process she observes in siderophore-producing bacteria and compensation in bi-parental care models.

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