When cooperation begets cooperation: The role of key individuals in galvanizing support

Katherine McAuliffe, Richard Wrangham, Luke Glowacki, Andrew F. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Life abounds with examples of conspecifics actively cooperating to a common end, despite conflicts of interest being expected concerning how much each individual should contribute. Mathematical models typically find that such conflict can be resolved by partial-response strategies, leading investors to contribute relatively equitably. Using a case study approach, we show that such model expectations can be contradicted in at least four disparate contexts: (i) bi-parental care; (ii) cooperative breeding; (iii) cooperative hunting; and (iv) human cooperation. We highlight that: (a) marked variation in contributions is commonplace; and (b) individuals can often respond positively rather than negatively to the contributions of others. Existing models have surprisingly limited power in explaining these phenomena. Here, we propose that, although among-individual variation in cooperative contributions will be influenced by differential costs and benefits, there is likely to be a strong genetic or epigenetic component. We then suggest that selection can maintain high investors (key individuals) when their contributions promote support by increasing the benefits and/or reducing the costs for others. Our intentions are to raise awareness in—and provide testable hypotheses of—two of the most poorly understood, yet integral, questions regarding cooperative ventures: why do individuas vary in their contributions and when does cooperation beget cooperation?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150012
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1683
StatePublished - Dec 5 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'When cooperation begets cooperation: The role of key individuals in galvanizing support'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this