Where Freeloading Fails

When it comes to the commons, freedloading can be a major issue.  Freeloaders are those who benefit from the shared resource and yet put nothing back in to the commons.   There have been a number of methods and ideas implemented to try and avoid the growth of freeloaders; for example the 4i method.

Now an interesting sets of research have been conducted on bacteria to examine the idea of freeloading in more detail.  Bacteria are surprisingly social; they can club together to form a mucus-like protective material called ‘biofilm‘ – yet once formed, other bacteria who did not help to build the biofilm can benefit from it.  This results in microscopic freeloaders.  What is interesting from the research is that freeloading only seems to be beneficial up to a point – once a mass of co-operative bacteria emerge, they creative a positive feedback situation that encourages more to appear;

In a nutshell, Czaran and Hoekstra [the researchers] have shown that “both cooperation and the associated communication system can evolve, spread and persist in the population“. So being a good citizen pays off, and cooperation actually increases the fitness of the cooperative strains as opposed to the non-cooperative ones.

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