Cooperation is essential for complex biological and social systems and explaining its evolutionary origins remains a central question in several disciplines. Tag systems are a class of models demonstrating the evolution of cooperation between selfish replicators. A number of previous models have been presented but they have not been widely explored. Though previous researchers have concentrated on the effects of one or several parameters of tag models, exploring exactly what is meant by cheating in a tag system has received little attention. Here we re-implement three previous models of tag-mediated altruism and introduce four definitions of cheaters. Previous models have used what we consider weaker versions of cheaters that may not exploit cooperators to the degree possible, or to the degree observed in natural systems. We find that the level of altruism that evolves in a population is highly contingent on how cheaters are defined. In particular when cheaters are defined as agents that display an appropriate tag but have no mechanism for participating in altruistic acts themselves, a population is quickly invaded by cheaters and all altruism collapses. Even in the intermediate case where cheaters may revert back to a tag-tolerance mode of interaction, only minimal levels of altruism evolve. Our results suggest that models of tag-mediated altruism using stronger types of cheaters may require additional mechanisms, such as punishment strategies or multi-level selection, to evolve meaningful levels of altruism.
Tag-Mediated Altruism is Contingent on How Cheaters Are Defined
by Shade T. Shutters and David Hales