Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

The Non-Tragedy of the Non-Linear Commons

Version 1 : Received: 12 April 2020 / Approved: 15 April 2020 / Online: 15 April 2020 (02:51:41 CEST)
Version 2 : Received: 14 June 2020 / Approved: 16 June 2020 / Online: 16 June 2020 (12:35:40 CEST)

How to cite: Archetti, M.; Scheuring, I.; Yu, D. The Non-Tragedy of the Non-Linear Commons. Preprints 2020, 2020040226. Archetti, M.; Scheuring, I.; Yu, D. The Non-Tragedy of the Non-Linear Commons. Preprints 2020, 2020040226.


Public goods are produced at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from the secretion of diffusible molecules by cells to social interactions in humans. However, the cooperation needed to produce public goods is vulnerable to exploitation by free-riders the Tragedy of the Commons. The dominant solution to this problem of collective action is that some form of positive assortment (due to kinship or spatial structure) or of enforcement (reward and punishment) is necessary for public-goods cooperation to evolve. However, these solutions are only needed when individual contributions to the public good accrue linearly, and the assumption of linearity is never true in biology. We explain how cooperation for nonlinearpublic goods is maintained endogenously and does not require positive assortment or enforcement, and we review the considerable empirical evidence for the existence and maintenance of nonlinear public goods in biology. We argue that it is time to move beyond discussions about assortment and enforcement in the study of cooperation in biology.


positive assortment; public goods; collective action; common-pool resources; cooperation; game theory; group selection; kin selection; social dilemma


Biology and Life Sciences, Other

Comments (0)

Comment 1
Received: 12 May 2020
Commenter: Philipp Altrock
The commenter has declared there is no conflict of interests.
Comment: Hi - I love your new preprint, my group and I will certainly be using it as a valuable resource in the future. I would like to nudge you to consider also citing other's and our recent work on the topic of nonlinear public goods games (in cancer cells), which you might have missed:

Share, but unequally: a plausible mechanism for emergence and maintenance of intratumour heterogeneity
X Li, D Thirumalai
Journal of the Royal Society Interface 16 (150), 20180820, 2019

Time scales and wave formation in non-linear spatial public goods games
GJ Kimmel, P Gerlee, PM Altrock
PLoS Computational Biology 15 (9), e1007361, 2019

Neighborhood size-effects shape growing population dynamics in evolutionary public goods games
GJ Kimmel, P Gerlee, JS Brown, PM Altrock
Communications Biology 2, 53, 2019
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