Tragedies and Crops: Understanding Natural Selection To Improve Cropping Systems

Niels P.R. Anten*, Peter J. Vermeulen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Plant communities with traits that would maximize community performance can be invaded by plants that invest extra in acquiring resources at the expense of others, lowering the overall community performance, a so-called tragedy of the commons (TOC). By contrast, maximum community performance is usually the objective in agriculture. We first give an overview of the occurrence of TOCs in plants, and explore the extent to which past crop breeding has led to trait values that go against an unwanted TOC. We then show how linking evolutionary game theory (EGT) with mechanistic knowledge of the physiological processes that drive trait expression and the ecological aspects of biotic interactions in agro-ecosystems might contribute to increasing crop yields and resource-use efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-439
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Agro-ecosystems
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Food security
  • Natural selection


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