Stochastic stability and the evolution of coordination in spatially structured populations

Jeremy Van Cleve, Laurent Lehmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Animals can often coordinate their actions to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. However, this can result in a social dilemma when uncertainty about the behavior of partners creates multiple fitness peaks. Strategies that minimize risk ("risk dominant") instead of maximizing reward ("payoff dominant") are favored in economic models when individuals learn behaviors that increase their payoffs. Specifically, such strategies are shown to be "stochastically stable" (a refinement of evolutionary stability).Here, we extend the notion of stochastic stability to biological models of continuous phenotypes at a mutation-selection-drift balance. This allows us to make a unique prediction for long-term evolution in games with multiple equilibria. We show how genetic relatedness due to limited dispersal and scaled to account for local competition can crucially affect the stochastically-stable outcome of coordination games. We find that positive relatedness (weak local competition) increases the chance the payoff dominant strategy is stochastically stable, even when it is not risk dominant. Conversely, negative relatedness (strong local competition) increases the chance that strategies evolve that are neither payoff nor risk dominant. Extending our results to large multiplayer coordination games we find that negative relatedness can create competition so extreme that the game effectively changes to a hawk-dove game and a stochastically stable polymorphism between the alternative strategies evolves. These results demonstrate the usefulness of stochastic stability in characterizing long-term evolution of continuous phenotypes: the outcomes of multiplayer games can be reduced to the generic equilibria of two-player games and the effect of spatial structure can be analyzed readily.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-87
Number of pages13
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jorge Peña for useful comments on the paper. JV was supported by a SFI Omidyar Fellowship and by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) under NSF grant #EF-0423641 . This work was supported by Swiss NSF grant PP00P3-123344 .


  • N-player game
  • Relatedness
  • Risk dominance
  • Stag hunt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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