In the face of costs, cooperative interactions maintained over evolutionary time present a central question in biology. What forces maintain this cooperation? Two potential ways to explain this problem are spatially structured environments (kin selection) and kin-recognition (directed benefits). In a two-locus population genetic model, we investigated the relative roles of spatial structure and kin recognition in the maintenance of cooperation among rhizobia within the rhizobia-legume mutualism. In the case where the cooperative and kin recognition loci are independently inherited, spatial structure alone maintains cooperation, while kin recognition decreases the equilibrium frequency of cooperators. In the case of coinheritance, spatial structure remains a stronger force, but kin recognition can transiently increase the frequency of cooperators. Our results suggest that spatial structure can be a dominant force in maintaining cooperation in rhizobium populations, providing a mechanism for maintaining the mutualistic nodulation trait. Further, our model generates unique and testable predictions that could be evaluated empirically within the legume-rhizobium mutualism.
Zee PC, Bever JD (2014) Joint Evolution of Kin Recognition and Cooperation in Spatially Structured Rhizobium Populations. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95141. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095141