In many circumstances organisms invest in cooperative activities to increase their mutual fitness but are susceptible to cheats that obtain the benefits of cooperation without investment. Natural selection may favor cooperators that resist cheats, and cheats that avoid such resistance; in theory the coevolutionary interaction may be sustained and dynamic. Here, we report evidence of antagonistic coevolution between cooperators and cheats involved in biofilm formation by Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria. Two distinct phenotypes occur in static culture tubes: one that can form a biofilm at the air-broth interface and thus obtain improved access to oxygen, and one that colonizes the broth phase but which can also invade, and weaken, the biofilm produced by the other type. Over serial passage, biofilm producers (considered here as cooperators) evolve to become better at resisting invasion, and biofilm nonproducers (cheats) evolve to be more efficient invaders. Each type has higher performance (resistance in the case of cooperators and biofilm invasion for cheats) in competition with isolates of the other type from their past compared to that from their future, indicating a dynamic coevolutionary interaction. Such coevolution may have important consequences for the maintenance of cooperation.
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Vol. 63 • No. 9