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The evolution of resource specialism and generalism has attracted widespread interest. Evolutionary drivers affecting niche differentiation and resource specialization have focused on the role of trade-offs. Here, however, we explore how the role of cooperation, mediated through altruistic behaviors, and classic resource-consumer dynamics can influence the evolution of resource utilization. Using an evolutionary invasion approach, we investigate how critical thresholds in levels of altruism are needed for resource specialization to arise and be maintained. Differences between complementary (essential) and substitutable resources affect the evolution of resource generalists. The strength of resource preferences coupled with the levels of altruism are predicted to influence the evolution of generalism. Coupling appropriate evolutionary game and ecological dynamics lead to novel expectations in the feedbacks between social behaviors and population dynamics for understanding classic ecological problems.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecol Evol

Publication Date





515 - 524