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The evolution of multicellular organisms represents one of the major evolutionary transitions in the history of life. A potential advantage of forming multicellular clumps is that it provides an efficiency benefit to pre-existing cooperation, such as the production of extracellular 'public goods'. However, this is complicated by the fact that cooperation could jointly evolve with clumping, and clumping could have multiple consequences for the evolution of cooperation. We model the evolution of clumping and a cooperative public good, showing that (i) when considered separately, both clumping and public goods production gradually increase with increasing genetic relatedness; (ii) in contrast, when the traits evolve jointly, a small increase in relatedness can lead to a major shift in evolutionary outcome—from a non-clumping state with low public goods production to a cooperative clumping state with high values of both traits; (iii) high relatedness makes it easier to get to the cooperative clumping state and (iv) clumping can be inhibited when it increases the number of cells that the benefits of cooperation must be shared with, but promoted when it increases relatedness between those cells. Overall, our results suggest that public goods sharing can facilitate the formation of well-integrated cooperative clumps as a first step in the evolution of multicellularity.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





eusociality, major evolutionary transitions, public goods, quorum sensing, social evolution, synergy, Biological Evolution, Microbial Interactions, Models, Biological