Kin selection-mutation balance: A model for the origin, maintenance, and consequences of social cheating

J. David Van Dyken, Timothy A. Linksvayer, Michael J. Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Social conflict, in the form of intraspecific selfish "cheating," has been observed in a number of natural systems. However, a formal, evolutionary genetic theory of social cheating that provides an explanatory, predictive framework for these observations is lacking. Here we derive the kin selection-mutation balance, which provides an evolutionary null hypothesis for the statics and dynamics of cheating. When social interactions have linear fitness effects and Hamilton's rule is satisfied, selection is never strong enough to eliminate recurrent cheater mutants from a population, but cheater lineages are transient and do not invade. Instead, cheating lineages are eliminated by kin selection but are constantly reintroduced by mutation, maintaining a stable equilibrium frequency of cheaters. The presence of cheaters at equilibrium creates a "cheater load" that selects for mechanisms of cheater control, such as policing. We find that increasing relatedness reduces the cheater load more efficiently than does policing the costs and benefits of cooperation. Our results provide new insight into the effects of genetic systems, mating systems, ecology, and patterns of sex-limited expression on social evolution. We offer an explanation for the widespread cheater/altruist polymorphism found in nature and suggest that the common fear of conflict-induced social collapse is unwarranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-300
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cheating
  • Conflict
  • Kin selection
  • Load
  • Mutation
  • Policing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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