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Game Theory in Squid Matings

The concept of game theory can be applied to biological processes in addition to the economic uses it was originally intended for. However, in biological game theory, payoffs are normally replaced with levels of fitness; that is, the ability to survive and reproduce. One such example that we have already studied that pertains to biological applications of game theory is the hawk-dove game, in which two players compete for dominance against each other. In this game, each competitor would prefer to dominate over the other, but the worst outcome is when both competitors try to take dominating positions. For example, consider a population in which two species of birds are competing with each other to occupy a specific niche: food sources. If there are two viable types of food in the population for both species, but the first food type is more abundant than the second, then the continued competition between both species for that first food type only can cause problems detrimental to both species. Situations that can arise are not limited to the possibilities that food types abundant for one species may not be abundant enough to support two species, or the time spent fighting over food would be better served finding mates. If both species continue to vie for the first food type, then it is very probable that their survival and reproductive rates would decrease more than if one species had just acclimated to the second, less abundant food source.

One new find about the mating behaviors of deep-sea squids pertains to our discussion of game theory in class. A species of squid residing in the Pacific, Octopoteuthis deletron, exhibits a new mating pattern in which males attempt to mate with other males of the same species as often as they mate with females. At first glance, this behavior seems counter-intuitive and detrimental to the fitness of the male squid. Matings have a cost of time and resources, but there is no payoff of mating with another male since the mating will fail to produce progeny. However, by taking into account the environment in which this species of squid resides, we see that these squid live in deep and dark habitats where other squid and potential mates are scarce. By applying game theory, we can reason that the cost of mating with both sexes is more than the cost of mating with only females, but the payoff must be higher. If the male squid discriminates between males and females, then it is possible that it might mistake a female for a male in its dark environment and thus not mate with it, but if it mates indiscriminately, then all females will be mated with. Therefore, the benefit of mating with all females it comes into contact with outweighs the benefits of discriminate matings, and the strictly dominant strategy for males is to mate without preference.


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