Population viscosity promotes altruism under density-dependent dispersal

Jasmeen Kanwal*, Andy Gardner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


A basic mechanism of kin selection is population viscosity, whereby individuals do not move far from their place of birth and hence tend to be surrounded by relatives. In such circumstances, even indiscriminate altruism among neighbours will often involve interactions between kin, which has a promoting effect on the evolution of altruism. This has the potential to explain altruistic behaviour across the whole tree of life, including in taxa for which recognition of kin is implausible. However, population viscosity may also intensify resource competition among kin, which has an inhibitory effect on altruism. Indeed, in the simplest scenario, in which individuals disperse with a fixed probability, these two effects have been shown to exactly cancel such that there is no net impact of viscosity on altruism. Here, we show that if individuals are able to disperse conditionally upon local density, they are favoured to do so, with more altruistic neighbourhoods exhibiting a higher rate of dispersal and concomitant relaxation of kin competition. Comparing across different populations or species, this leads to a negative correlation between overall levels of dispersal and altruism. We demonstrate both analytically and using individual-based simulations that population viscosity promotes the evolution of altruism under density-dependent dispersal.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20212668
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1970
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022


  • Constant non-disperser principle
  • Density-dependence
  • Inclusive fitness
  • Kin selection
  • Limited dispersal
  • Viscous population


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