How Does Cooperation Evolve?

If evolution is all about "survival of the fittest", how does cooperation evolve?

Subjects: Biology, Evolution


Lichen is a combination of algae and fungus living together. This relationship allows them to survive in locations they could never live on their own.

If evolution is all about “survival of the fittest”, how does cooperation evolve? Living things form cooperative relationships all the time. Research done by applying mathematics to biology is helping us understand the evolution of cooperation. Cooperation has caused some of the major evolutionary steps in the history of life, including the step from single celled creatures to multi-cellular plants and animals.

Scientists used mathematical models to find scenarios in which natural selection will actually favor cooperation.

For Teachers

The content of this video meets criteria in the following Disciplinary Core Ideas defined by Next Generation Science Standards. Use our videos to supplement classroom curriculum.


Our videos benefit from guidance and advice provided by experts in science and education. This animation is the result of collaboration between the following scientists, educators, and our team of creatives.

  • Jon Perry
  • Anthony Danzl
  • Rosemary Mosco