Olof Leimar

Can you explain what game theory is?

Within biology, game theory is being used for mathematical analyses of advantages and disadvantages of the different behaviours of individuals and other characteristics. Advantages and disadvantages are about survival and reproduction, which control evolution. Advantages and disadvantages often depend on what other individuals do. Analysis of such situations is the most important area of game theory.

Some concrete examples of game theory? 

When two bird parents, such as the great tit or blue tit, bring up their common offspring, an important question is how much each parent works to get food for the young, compared with saving themselves to increase the chance for the individual to have offspring in the future. What is interesting is how much the parents cooperate for their shared brood, compared with taking consideration of the individual’s own interests beyond the shared brood. Within game theory, there are both traditional and new analyses of the shared care of offspring. Numerous experiments have also been done with bird parents, where it is studied how the one parent reacts when the other increases or decreases its feeding of the young.

Do any re-evaluations or updates of game theory exist in the book? 

The book provides a new emphasis for game theory with the help of animal psychology, modern neuroscience and new methods from so-called machine learning. With these, game theory can analyse questions that have been too complicated for traditional methods in the area. An important example is dominance hierarchies. They occur among many social animals, and were originally studied around 100 years ago in tame hens by the Norwegian biologist Schjederup-Ebbe. In the book, we show new ways of studying social behaviours.

How will the book be used? 

We hope that it will be used both in more advanced university courses on animal behaviour and by various researchers, who want to learn about the latest in the field or to be inspired to new ways of looking at biology.

What else is your research about?  

Various theories on animal social behaviours are my main interest, but I also have a broad interest in evolutionary biology. For example, I recently participated in a work on how to study stress and stress factors with an evolutionary focus (this will soon be published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution).

Anything else to add? 

Studying animal behaviour is incredibly educational and a great deal remains to be done. I hope that the book contributes to this science.