The evolution of intergroup cooperation

António M. M. Rodrigues*, Jessica L. Barker, Elva J. H. Robinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Sociality is widespread among animals, and involves complex relationships within and between social groups. While intragroup interactions are often cooperative, intergroup interactions typically involve conflict, or at best tolerance. Active cooperation between members of distinct, separate groups occurs very rarely, predominantly in some primate and ant species. Here, we ask why intergroup cooperation is so rare, and what conditions favour its evolution. We present a model incorporating intra- and intergroup relationships and local and long-distance dispersal. We show that dispersal modes play a pivotal role in the evolution of intergroup interactions. Both long-distance and local dispersal processes drive population social structure, and the costs and benefits of intergroup conflict, tolerance and cooperation. Overall, the evolution of multi-group interaction patterns, including both intergroup aggression and intergroup tolerance, or even altruism, is more likely with mostly localized dispersal. However, the evolution of these intergroup relationships may have significant ecological impacts, and this feedback may alter the ecological conditions that favour its own evolution. These results show that the evolution of intergroup cooperation is favoured by a specific set of conditions, and may not be evolutionarily stable. We discuss how our results relate to empirical evidence of intergroup cooperation in ants and primates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20220074
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1874
Early online date20 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2023


  • Intergroup cooperation
  • Coalitions
  • Kin selection
  • Peace
  • Dispersal
  • Intergroup conflict


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