Understanding the conditions and dynamics that produce cooperation in evolving systems remains a fundamental goal of evolutionary theory. Significant progress has been made in determining the conditions that support cooperation in simple models, but the evolutionary dynamics that lead from noncooperative conditions to cooperation are still poorly understood. And, in more complex models, even the conditions that support cooperation are not well defined.
In this paper we study the dynamics of the evolution of cooperation in both a simple tag-mediated cooperation model and in a more complex version of the same system in which there is multilevel competition—competition between both individuals and populations of individuals. The results show that the inclusion of multilevel competition has both quantitative effects (increasing the frequency and duration of the periods of cooperation) and qualitative effects (introducing a new stable state) on the evolutionary dynamics of cooperation.