You know, its an interesting exercise to think what what niches/roles/builds we want to promote, and what evolutionary strategies we have available to achieve those builds. This area is a perfect crossover of science into gameplay, as many of these strategies are clearly observed and documented in nature.
I started by thinking about how one can best play a sessile photosynthesizer, thanks to new the day/night cycle branch. The day/night cycle definitely makes it more of a game of survival to play as a plant, like it already was for eukaryotes. But what beyond surviving the day/night cycle makes a plant build a good build? What are the different possible strategies to play a plant? And in fact, what are the different possible strategies to play any type of cell?
To focus on one niche at a time, it seems to me like the following are the evolutionary strategies observed in nature to be competitive as a photosynthetic plant (at the microscopic level):
Invest in hard to digest cell walls
- Status: In-game (Cellulose, Chitin, Calcium Carbonate, Silicate)
- Advantages: Makes it very difficult for anything to damage you. Reduces osmoregulation cost so you can have more creativity with designing your cell.
- Disadvantages: Slows down mobility a lot.
- Counters: Predators evolving appropriate enzymes to digest your cell wall.
Living in large clusters
- Status: Partially In-game (With Signal proteins, which prevents prokaryotes from using this strategy)
- Advantages: Greatly reduces the chance that you individually will be targetted by a predator. When neighbouring cells die that means free nutrients for you.
- Disadvantages: Neighbouring cells can trap you from moving.
- Counters: Large cells that can engulf several cells at a time.
High reproduction rate
- Status: Partially In-game (By staying small so you reproduce fast, effectively only applying to prokaryotes. We also have no ways to specifically evolve your reproduction rate.)
- Advantages: Your lifespan is so short it gives a really small window for predators to kill you. Your population is likely so high you can suffer the population loss from dying once or twice to predation.
- Disadvantages: You almost cannot evolve any complexity or you will quickly stop reproducing so quickly.
- Counters: A combination of effective predators, and outcompetition by more complex plants can eliminate your population.
- Status: Partially In-game (Also only as an offensive weapon, and not as endotoxins. Currently very powerful as there are no antitoxins in-game.)
- Advantages: The only possible defence in nature is via evolving the appropriate antitoxin.
- Disadvantages: Toxicity in nature is costly to maintain and thus only evolved when absolutely needed. If toxicity is an endotoxin, it will fail to prevent predation, it will just kill the predator in the process.
- Counters: Predators with the appropriate antitoxin
Pili (and other external structures)
- Status: In-game (Though probably too powerful currently as pili are very damaging)
- Advantages: Has a chance to interrupt other cells when engulfing you, or damage them. A very low cost strategy.
- Disadvantages: Is not a guaranteed defence, as a determined predator will eventually be able to engulf you.
- Counters: Predators with ranged toxins, predators with resistance to physical damage
Be a mobile plant
- Status: In-game (Possibly a little too easy to do currently)
- Advantages: The only possible counter to this are predators that are faster than you.
- Disadvantages: Requires a lot of energy, thus requires a very successful organism with access to lots of energy.
- Counters: Predators that are faster than you
These are the only evolutionary strategies I know of that microbial autotrophs use to compete with other autotrophs, and to defend against predation.
It would help to think: How well do we encourage these different strategies currently? How can we better encourage these strategies with future content? Does Auto-Evo recognize and reward these strategies? Do players often use these strategies? Are there any other potential strategies to consider?
I can progressively add these to the wiki so we can use it for reference when designing and balancing organelles, abilities, and processes.