NCEAS Project 12662

When is a mutualist a cheater? A synthesis of conceptual and data-based perspectives on the causes and consequences of variation in mutualist quality

  • Emily I. Jones
  • Maren L. Friesen

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Working Group10th—15th December 2012Participant List  

Cheating is a fundamental – yet fuzzy – concept in the study of mutualism. If it is defined at all, cheating is variously defined as obtaining rewards from a partner while reciprocating nothing, reciprocating less than other mutualists, or reciprocating less than is “fair”. In all cases, cheating is considered a threat to the ecological and evolutionary stability of mutualisms; however, the ambiguity of what is actually meant by “cheating” stands in the way of understanding how common and how severe cheating is across mutualisms. The goal of our working group is to bring together a diverse group of scientists with expertise in different mutualisms to achieve a consensus on how to define and measure cheating, and mutualist quality in general. Specifically, we aim (i) to develop a standard, quantitative metric of cheating, (ii) to compile data on partner quality from across systems than span the range of mutualisms, and (iii) to use these products to generate insight into several outstanding questions in the evolutionary ecology of mutualism. By forging consensus between early and later career scientists working in multiple systems, our working group has the potential to transform the study of mutualism from a collection of examples into a unified field.