Selective feedback between dispersal distance and the stability of mutualism

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The evolution and maintenance of mutually beneficial interactions has been one of the oldest problems for evolutionary theory. For cooperation to be stable, mechanisms such as spatial population structure must exist that prevent non-cooperative individuals from invading cooperative groups. Selection for certain traits like increased dispersal can erode that structure. Here, I used a spatially explicit individual based dual lattice computer simulation to investigate how the evolution of dispersal interacts with the evolution of mutualism and how this interaction affects the stability of mutualism in the face of non-mutualists. I ran simulations manipulating the self-structuring phenotype, dispersal distance, over a range of environmental conditions, as well as letting both dispersal and mutualism evolve independently, with and without a cost of dispersal. I found that environmental productivity is negatively correlated with the stability of mutualism, and that the stability of mutualism relied on the ability of mutualists to evolve shorter dispersal distances than non-mutualists. The inclusion of a dispersal cost essentially fixed the upper limit of dispersal, and therefore limits the ability of non-mutualists to evolve higher average dispersal than mutualists, but as costs are relaxed, the differences are recovered. These results show how selection on seemingly unrelated traits can align suites of traits into holistic life history strategies.

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