Dangerous liaisons: the ecology of private interest and common good


  • Minus Van Baalen,

  • Vincent A. A. Jansen

M. van Baalen, Inst. of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Section Population Biology, Univ. of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 94084, NL-1090 GB Amsterdam, The Netherlands (present address: Institut d’Écologie – UMR 7625, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Bât. A, 7ème étage CC237, 7 quai St.-Bernard, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France [mvbaalen@snv.jussieu.fr]). – V. A. A. Jansen, School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, Univ. of London, Egham, Surrey, UK TW20 0EX.


Many ecological interactions that are called mutualistic are in fact mixtures of antagonistic and mutualistic aspects. For example, plasmids exploit their bacterial hosts but also protect them against external threats. In this study, we analyse the conditions for the evolution of what we call ‘dangerous liaisons’: interactions combining mutualistic and antagonistic aspects. Starting point of our analysis is a model that was proposed as early as 1934. In this model, partners have to form a complex (either temporary or long lasting) in order to interact. Using this model framework we then set out to define and tease apart private interests of the interacting partners from their common good. This dichotomy provides a unifying perspective to classify ecological interactions. We discuss some examples to illustrate how the outcome of the interaction may depend on densities or on other contextual variables. Finally, we note that having a common good is not a necessary condition for partners to have aligned interests. In a dangerous liaison partners may have interest to cooperate even when this does not bolster the common good.