Chaotic Red Queen coevolution in three-species food chains

Fabio Dercole, Regis Ferriere, Sergio Rinaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Coevolution between two antagonistic species follows the so-called 'Red Queen dynamics' when reciprocal selection results in an endless series of adaptation by one species and counteradaptation by the other. Red Queen dynamics are 'genetically driven' when selective sweeps involving new beneficial mutations result in perpetual oscillations of the coevolving traits on the slow evolutionary time scale. Mathematical models have shown that a prey and a predator can coevolve along a genetically driven Red Queen cycle. We found that embedding the prey-predator interaction into a three-species food chain that includes a coevolving superpredator often turns the genetically driven Red Queen cycle into chaos. A key condition is that the prey evolves fast enough. Red Queen chaos implies that the direction and strength of selection are intrinsically unpredictable beyond a short evolutionary time, with greatest evolutionary unpredictability in the superpredator. We hypothesize that genetically driven Red Queen chaos could explain why many natural populations are poised at the edge of ecological chaos. Over space, genetically driven chaos is expected to cause the evolutionary divergence of local populations, even under homogenizing environmental fluctuations, and thus to promote genetic diversity among ecological communities over long evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2321-2330
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1692
StatePublished - Aug 7 2010


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Arms race
  • Chaos
  • Coevolution
  • Genetic divergence
  • Predator-prey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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