The Public and Private Benefit of an Impure Public Good Determines the Sensitivity of Bacteria to Population Collapse in a Snowdrift Game
When cooperation is critical for survival, cheating can lead to population collapse. One mechanism of cooperation that permits the coexistence of cooperators and cheaters is an impure public good, whose public benefits are shared, but with a private benefit retained by the cooperator. It has yet to be determined how the contributions of the public and private benefit affect population survival. Using simulations and experiments with β‐lactamase‐expressing bacteria, we found that for a given amount of public and private benefit, the population was most sensitive to collapse when initiated from an intermediate fraction of cooperators due to the near‐concurrent collapse of the cooperator and cheater populations. We found that increasing the ratio of public to private benefit increased sensitivity to collapse. A low ratio allowed cooperators to survive on their private benefit after the public benefit could not rescue the cheaters. A high ratio allowed the cheaters to survive to high concentrations of ampicillin due to the high public benefit. However, small increases in ampicillin caused a rapid decline in the entire population as the private benefit was insufficient to allow self‐rescue of the cooperators. Our findings have implications in the persistence of populations that rely on cooperation for survival.
Smith, Robert; Aimee Doiron; Rodrigo Muzquiz; Marla Fortoul; Meghan Haas; Tom Abraham; Rebecca Quinn; Ivana Barraza; Khadija Chowdhury; and Louis R. Nemzer. 2019. "The Public and Private Benefit of an Impure Public Good Determines the Sensitivity of Bacteria to Population Collapse in a Snowdrift Game." Environmental Microbiology , (): 1-37. doi:10.1111/1462-2920.14796.