Are all patterns created equal? Cooperation is more likely in spatially simple habitats

Camilla Bertolini*, Kasper Hlebowicz, Flavia Schlichta, Jacob J. Capelle, Johan van de Koppel, Tjeerd J. Bouma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperative behaviours, such as aggregation with neighbouring conspecifics, canenhance resilience in habitats where risks (i.e. predation, physical disturbances) are high, exerting positive feedback loops to maintain a healthy population. At the same time, cooperation behaviours can involve some extra energy expenditures and in‐ creasing resource competition. For sessile reefs, like mussels, simulation models predict increased cooperation under increasing levels of environmental stress. Predation risk is viewed as a behaviour‐modifying stressor, but its role on cooperation mechanisms, such as likelihood of reciprocity, has not yet been empirically tested. This study harnesses this framework to understand how cooperation changes under different perceived levels of predation risk, using mussel beds as model of a complex“self‐organised” system. Hence, we assessed the context dependency of cooperation response in different “landscapes of fear,” created by changes in predator cues, sub‐ stratum availability and body size. Our experiments demonstrated that i) cooperation in a mussel bed system increases when predator cues are present, but that this relationship was found to be both, ii) strongly context‐dependent, particularly upon substratum availability and iii) size‐dependent. That is, while cooperation is in general greater for larger individuals, the response to risk results in greater cooperation when alternative attachment substratum is absent, meaning that simpler landscapes may be perceived as riskier. The context dependency of structural complexity is also an essential finding to consider in a changing world where habitats are losing complexity and cooperative strategies should be maximised.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12572
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date17 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • aggregation
  • behaviour
  • musselbeds
  • NCE
  • predation risk
  • self-organisation


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