How Is Game Theory Used in Biology?


Diego Sanchez

Game theory is a powerful tool used in many fields, including biology. The basic principles of game theory apply to living organisms, as they often face situations where their actions affect the outcomes of others. In this article, we will explore how game theory is used in biology and the implications it has for understanding the behavior of living organisms.

What is Game Theory?

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with decision-making in situations where multiple parties are involved and their decisions affect each other’s outcomes. In game theory, the goal is to find the optimal strategy for each player based on their opponents’ strategies and potential outcomes.

How is Game Theory Used in Biology?

In biology, game theory can be used to study animal behavior, evolution, and social interactions. For example, animals may compete with each other for resources such as food or mates, or they may cooperate to achieve a common goal such as defense against predators.

One example of game theory in biology is the Hawk-Dove game. This game models the behavior of two animals competing for a resource.

If both animals are Hawks (aggressive), they will fight until one wins and gets the resource. If both animals are Doves (passive), they will share the resource equally. If one animal is a Hawk and the other is a Dove, the Hawk will get the resource while the Dove retreats.

This model can be applied to various scenarios in nature such as mating rituals or territorial disputes between animals. By using game theory models like these, researchers can gain insight into how organisms interact with each other in different situations.

The Evolutionary Stable Strategy

Another important concept in game theory applied to biology is “Evolutionary Stable Strategy” (ESS). An ESS refers to a strategy that cannot be beaten by any other strategy within a given population. This means that if everyone adopts this strategy, no one will have an incentive to switch to another strategy.

For example, in the Hawk-Dove game, the ESS is a mixed strategy where both Hawks and Doves coexist in the population. In this scenario, the population is stable because neither strategy can completely dominate the other.

Implications for Understanding Animal Behavior

Game theory has significant implications for understanding animal behavior. By modeling animal behavior using game theory models, researchers can gain insight into why certain animals behave in specific ways and predict how they might behave in different scenarios.

For example, by studying animal behavior through a game theory lens, researchers can understand why animals cooperate or compete with each other and how they decide on their strategies. This information can be used to develop conservation strategies or understand the spread of diseases within populations.


In conclusion, game theory is an essential tool used in biology to study animal behavior and social interactions. By using game theory models like the Hawk-Dove game and understanding concepts such as Evolutionary Stable Strategy, researchers can gain insight into why animals behave in specific ways and predict their behavior in different scenarios. The applications of game theory to biology are vast and have implications for understanding complex natural systems.