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Resource competition and social conflict in experimental populations of yeast

Nature volume 441, pages 498501 (25 May 2006) | Download Citation



Understanding the conditions that promote the maintenance of cooperation is a classic problem in evolutionary biology1,2,3,4,5. The essence of this dilemma is captured by the ‘tragedy of the commons’6: how can a group of individuals that exploit resources in a cooperative manner resist invasion by ‘cheaters’ who selfishly use common resources to maximize their individual reproduction at the expense of the group7,8? Here, we investigate this conflict through experimental competitions between isogenic cheater and cooperator strains of yeast with alternative pathways of glucose metabolism9, and by using mathematical models of microbial biochemistry10. We show that both coexistence and competitive exclusion are possible outcomes of this conflict, depending on the spatial and temporal structure of the environment. Both of these outcomes are driven by trade-offs between the rate and efficiency of conversion of resources into offspring that are mediated by metabolic intermediates.

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This project was funded by grants from NERC to the Center for Population Biology. I. Gudelj was supported by a NERC-EMS Fellowship. The authors would like to thank C. Godfray for comments and C. Brandon for technical assistance. Author Contributions R.C.M. carried out experimental work and wrote the manuscript. I.G. carried out mathematical modelling.

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  1. NERC Center for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK

    • R. Craig MacLean
  2. Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

    • Ivana Gudelj


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Craig MacLean.

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    Supplementary Notes

    Supplementary Notes nature04672-s1.pdf This file contains Supplementary Figure 1, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Note 1 and Supplementary Equation 1.

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