I am interested in the mechanisms that can stabilise cooperation in nature. In the absence of such mechanisms, cooperation is undermined because over time cheaters that do not contribute to the interaction can outcompete cooperators.
One of the mechanisms that can stabilise cooperation is when an individual can detect the quality of a potential partner, and reward more cooperative partners, for instance by preferentially allocating resources to them. Such behaviour has been shown in a number of organisms and can even lead to dynamics comparable to human economics, where resources and services are exchanged on a ‘biological market’.
I study how rewards and biological markets can help explain stability of (mutualistic) cooperation, specifically of cooperative interactions involving microbes.
Werner, G.D.A., Strassmann , J.E., Ivens, A.B.F., Engelmoer, D.J.P., Verbruggen, E., Queller, D.C., Noë, R., Johnson, N.C., Hammerstein, P., Kiers, E.T. (2014). Evolution of Microbial Markets. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 111(4): 1237–1244 PDF link Article Link
Whiteside MD, Werner GDA, Caldas VEA, van’t Padje A, Dupin SE, Elbers B et al. 2019. Mycorrhizal Fungi Respond to Resource Inequality by Moving Phosphorus from Rich to Poor Patches across Networks. Current Biology 29: 2043-2050.e8 PDF link Article Link This work also featured in The Economist.
Werner, G.D.A., Zhou, Y., Pieterse, C.M.J., Kiers E.T. (2017) Tracking plant preference for higher-quality mycorrhizal symbionts under varying CO2-conditions over multiple generations. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3635 PDF link Article link