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The evolution of unconditional strategies via the ‘multiplier effect’




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 237–243


Ostensibly, it makes sense in a changeable world to condition behaviour and development on information when it is available. Nevertheless, unconditional behavioural and life history strategies are widespread. Here, we show how intergenerational effects can limit the evolutionary value of responding to reliable environmental cues, and thus favour the evolutionary persistence of otherwise paradoxical unconditional strategies. While cue-ignoring genotypes do poorly in the wrong environments, in the right environment they will leave many copies of themselves, which will themselves leave many copies, and so on, leading genotypes to accumulate in habitats in which they do well. We call this ‘The Multiplier Effect’. We explore the consequences of the multiplier effect by focussing on the ecologically important phenomenon of natal philopatry. We model the environment as a large number of temporally varying breeding sites connected by natal dispersal between sites. Our aim is to identify which aspects of an environment promote the multiplier effect. We show, if sites remain connected through some background level of ‘accidental’ dispersal, unconditional natal philopatry can evolve even when there is density dependence (with its accompanying kin competition effects), and cues that are only mildly erroneous. Thus, the multiplier effect may underpin the evolution and maintenance of unconditional strategies such as natal philopatry in many biological systems.