Environmentally Mediated Social Dilemmas

Sylvie Estrela, Eric Libby, Jeremy Van Cleve, Florence Débarre, Maxime Deforet, William R. Harcombe, Jorge Peña, Sam P. Brown, Michael E. Hochberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


By consuming and producing environmental resources, organisms inevitably change their habitats. The consequences of such environmental modifications can be detrimental or beneficial not only to the focal organism but also to other organisms sharing the same environment. Social evolution theory has been very influential in studying how social interactions mediated by public ‘goods’ or ‘bads’ evolve by emphasizing the role of spatial structure. The environmental dimensions driving these interactions, however, are typically abstracted away. We propose here a new, environment-mediated taxonomy of social behaviors where organisms are categorized by their production or consumption of environmental factors that can help or harm others in the environment. We discuss microbial examples of our classification and highlight the importance of environmental intermediates more generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-18
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank the Santa Fe Institute for hosting two working groups in 2016 and 2017, during which this research was conducted, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. F.D. received funding from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR, grant 14-ACHN-0003 ). J.P. gratefully acknowledges financial support from the ANR-Labex Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST) . M.E.H. thanks the McDonnell Foundation (Studying Complex Systems research award 220020294 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • dispersal
  • ecology
  • microbes
  • niche construction
  • social evolution
  • spatial structure


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