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Arts & Sciences

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Anim Behaviour 2014 Jun; 92:305-311. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.02.011


Organisms evolve to control, preserve, protect and invest in their own bodies. When they do likewise with external resources they privatize those resources and convert them into their own property. Property is a neglected topic in biology, although examples include territories, domiciles and nest structures, food caching, mate guarding, and the resources and partners in mutualisms. Property is important because it represents a solution to the tragedy of the commons; to the extent that an individual exerts long-term control of its property, it can use it prudently, and even invest in it. Resources most worth privatizing are often high in value. To be useful to their owner in the future, they are typically durable and defensible. This may explain why property is relatively rare in animals compared to humans. The lack of institutional property rights in animals also contributes to their rarity, although owner–intruder conventions may represent a simple form of property rights. Resources are often privatized by force or threat of force, but privatization can also be achieved by hiding, by constructing barriers, and by carrying or incorporating the property. Social organisms often have property for two reasons. First, the returns on savings and investments can accrue to relatives, including descendants. Second, social groups can divide tasks among members, so they can simultaneously guard property and forage, for example. Privatization enhances the likelihood that the benefits of cooperation will go to relatives, thus facilitating the evolution of cooperation as in Hamilton's rule or kin selection. Mutualisms often involve exchange of property and privatization of relationships. Privatization ensures the stability of such cooperation. The major transitions in evolution, both fraternal and egalitarian, generally involve the formation of private clubs with something analogous to the nonrivalrous club goods of economics.


Final author version of article published at DOI:
© 2014 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd.