• alternative reproductive strategies;
  • game theory;
  • mathematical model;
  • reproductive parasites;
  • resource competition


Although negative frequency-dependent fitness is argued to allow the stable coexistence of two alternative reproductive types (such as resource defenders and reproductive parasites), no existing theory has considered a third strategy where resource defenders invest differentially in defence against reproductive parasites. Here, we present the results of a three-strategy game, where reproductive parasites interact with two resource defenders: ‘Susceptibles’ defend more resources but lose more reproductive success to parasites. ‘Immunes’ lose less to parasites, but immunity carries a reproductive cost. We show that the inclusion of a third strategy dramatically changes the evolutionary dynamics, such that for a wide range of parameter values, our model predicts the continuous sequential invasion of the three strategies instead of stable coexistence. Our results therefore limit the generality of the prediction that frequency-dependent fitness necessarily allows alternative reproductive tactics to coexist at equilibrium and may also explain the observed dynamics of some multiple-strategy systems.