Stackelberg evolutionary game theory: how to manage evolving systems

Alexander Stein*, Monica Salvioli*, Hasti Garjani*, Johan Dubbeldam, Yannick Viossat, Joel S. Brown, Kateřina Staňková

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Stackelberg evolutionary game (SEG) theory combines classical and evolutionary game theory to frame interactions between a rational leader and evolving followers. In some of these interactions, the leader wants to preserve the evolving system (e.g. fisheries management), while in others, they try to drive the system to extinction (e.g. pest control). Often the worst strategy for the leader is to adopt a constant aggressive strategy (e.g. overfishing in fisheries management or maximum tolerable dose in cancer treatment). Taking into account the ecological dynamics typically leads to better outcomes for the leader and corresponds to the Nash equilibria in game-theoretic terms. However, the leader's most profitable strategy is to anticipate and steer the eco-evolutionary dynamics, leading to the Stackelberg equilibrium of the game. We show how our results have the potential to help in fields where humans try to bring an evolutionary system into the desired outcome, such as, among others, fisheries management, pest management and cancer treatment. Finally, we discuss limitations and opportunities for applying SEGs to improve the management of evolving biological systems. This article is part of the theme issue 'Half a century of evolutionary games: a synthesis of theory, application and future directions'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210495
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1876
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • evolutionary game theory
  • Darwinian dynamics
  • cancer evolution
  • isheries management
  • optimization
  • evolutionary rescue


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