Game Theory and the Evolution of Behaviour

J. Maynard Smith

Abstract

How far can game theory account for the evolution of contest behaviour in animals? The first qualitative prediction of the theory was that symmetric contests in which escalation is expensive should lead to mixed strategies. As yet it is hard to say how far this is borne out, because of the difficulty of distinguishing a 'mixed evolutionarily stable strategy' maintained by frequency-dependent selection from a 'pure conditional strategy'; the distinction is discussed in relation to several field studies. The second prediction was that if a contest is asymmetric (e.g. in ownership) then the asymmetry will be used as a conventional cue to settle it. This prediction has been well supported by observation. A third important issue is whether or not information about intentions is exchanged during contests. The significance of 'assessment' strategies is discussed.

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