Although several studies have demonstrated that frequency-dependent effects can promote the maintenance of cooperative behavior in microbes, experimental evidence of frequency-dependent effects in cooperative animal societies is rare. We staged mixed phenotype feeding bouts in the spider Anelosimus studiosus, which shows a within-population social polymorphism, to determine how phenotype frequency affects the foraging success of the social (cooperative) and asocial (cheater) phenotypes. Foraging performance was inferred from average change in percent mass for the respective phenotypes after staged group foraging events. We then performed a field census of multifemale colonies of A. studiosus to determine the phenotypic composition of naturally occurring colonies. Our data indicate that asocial (i.e., cheater) individuals experience negative frequency-dependent foraging success in staged foraging contests. Asocial individuals outperform social individuals when their representation is low, but lose this competitive advantage as their relative numbers increase. Naturally occurring colonies, on average, contained 58.33% social and 41.67% asocial individuals.
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Vol. 63 • No. 11