Cooperative behaviour in theory and practice
leading undergraduate research in behaviour mathematical biology
Keywords:prisoner’s dilemma, undergraduate research, cooperation, social behaviour, ecology
The US National Science Foundation has promoted the early integration of undergraduate students into academic research environments by funding activities such as the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs. Here, we discuss the operation of the first year for one REU site held on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Eight students from across the country were brought together for a 10-week summer programme in mathematical biology to work on research topics related to the establishment of cooperative behaviour. The students were paired in four teams, which approached the dynamic tension between cooperation and defection from a variety of mathematical and contextual perspectives. Two projects employed agent-based models on lattice environments: the first consisting of sparse populations of mobile individuals and the second featuring age-structured populations, history-dependent fitness, and the possibility of kinship recognition. A third project looked at the evolutionary dynamics of behavioural frequencies in a model of society comprised of three social strata. The final project focused on the ecological range distribution of non-cooperative, cooperative and kleptoparasitic populations in heterogeneous resource environments. We describe both the general results of the students’ research efforts and our observations on the efficacy of several enrichment activities provided to the students over the course of the REU summer.