Of mice and men
The Strategy Toolkit - June 2023 edition
Excerpt: Strategy and Biology, part four
In part three, we left you with a cornucopia of ingenious examples of species using strategies to reproduce. Some observers would argue that the situation (or use case) of reproduction is one of the most important sources of strategic insights. A matter of life or death, as they say.
Game theorists have even spotted multiple instances of unexpected equilibria known as evolutionary stable strategies, whereby a way of behaving becomes more advantageous as it gets rarer, and less so as it gets commoner. Typically the population subdivides into two subpopulations, or phenotypes, competitively in balance, with neither side able to dominate or eliminate the other.
Oxford University’s Rafael Wlodarski’s research into human male behaviours is one example, finding a balance between those who are less and those who are more inclined to care for their offspring (‘cads’ versus ‘dads’).*
* Wlodarski R., et al., 2015 “Stay or stray? Evidence for alternative mating strategy phenotypes in both men and women,” Biol. Lett.112014097720140977; https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2014.0977
* Anonymous, “Cads and dads,” The Economist (February 7 2015): 75-6; https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2015/02/04/cads-and-dads
Other examples are found in fish species (guppies) that exhibit bimodal behaviour in flamboyance (being brightly coloured) versus sneakiness (in terms of covert coupling with females). And in insect species (crickets) that exhibit a similarly bimodal behaviour in size (being much larger and thus physically intimidating) versus noisiness (having an extraordinarily loud and persistent chirping sound).*
* Evans, J., 2010 “Quantitative genetic evidence that males trade attractiveness for ejaculate quality in guppies,” Proc. R. Soc. B.2773195–3201; https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2010.0826
* Rodríguez-Muñoz, R. et al., Natural and Sexual Selection in a Wild Insect Population, Science 328,1269-1272(2010); DOI:10.1126/science.1188102; https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1188102
* Anonymous, “The hunk and the show-off do not always get the girl,” The Economist (June 5 2010): 88; https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2010/06/03/the-hunk-and-the-show-off-do-not-always-get-the-girl
It gets better. At least one species of butterfly (the Sara longwing, or Heliconius sara) demarcates males clearly into those large enough to battle it out for newly-emergent females versus those too small to win such battles and who instead hold an attractive territory and wait for females to transit. The latter group of small(ish) males defend their territories against much larger males, who deem it in their own self-interest not to do battle for an empty territory and instead to return to aforementioned sites of emerging females, where the odds of reproduction are much more in their favour.*
* Hernandez, M. et al, “Small-male advantage in the territorial tropical butterflyHeliconius sara(Nymphalidae): a paradoxical strategy?,” Animal Behaviour, Volume 56, Issue 3, September 1998, Pages 533-540; https://doi.org/10.1006/anbe.1998.0840
* Anonymous, “Fly on, little wing,” The Economist (October 17 1998): 97; https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/1998/10/15/fly-on-little-wing
Talk about Coke versus Pepsi, i.e. two different but very complementary and successful strategies that coexist.
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