Fitness tradeoffs between spores and nonaggregating cells can explain the coexistence of diverse genotypes in cellular slime molds

Corina E. Tarnita, Alex Washburne, Ricardo Martinez-Garcia, Allyson E. Sgro, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Cellular slime molds, including the well-studied Dictyostelium discoideum, are amoebae whose life cycle includes both a single-cellular and a multicellular stage. To achieve the multicellular stage, individual amoebae aggregate upon starvation to form a fruiting body made of dead stalk cells and reproductive spores, a process that has been described in terms of cooperation and altruism. When amoebae aggregate they do not perfectly discriminate against nonkin, leading to chimeric fruiting bodies. Within chimeras, complex interactions among genotypes have been documented, which should theoretically reduce genetic diversity. This is however inconsistent with the great diversity of genotypes found in nature. Recent work has shown that a little-studied component of D. discoideum fitness-the loner cells that do not participate in the aggregation-can be selected for depending on environmental conditions and that, together with the spores, they could represent a bet-hedging strategy. We suggest that in all cellular slime molds the existence of loners could resolve the apparent diversity paradox in two ways. First, if loners are accounted for, then apparent genotypic skew in the spores of chimeras could simply be the result of different investments into spores versus loners. Second, in an ecosystem with multiple local environments differing in their food recovery characteristics and connected globally via weak-to-moderate dispersal, coexistence of multiple genotypes can occur. Finally, we argue that the loners make it impossible to define altruistic behavior, winners or losers, without a clear description of the ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2776-2781
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 3 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Coexistence
  • Cooperation
  • Dictyostelium discoideum
  • Dispersal
  • Variable environments


Dive into the research topics of 'Fitness tradeoffs between spores and nonaggregating cells can explain the coexistence of diverse genotypes in cellular slime molds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this