Red Queens and ESS: the coevolution of evolutionary rates

Michael L. Rosenzweig, Joel S. Brown, Thomas L. Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The Red Queen principle states that a set of interacting species reaches an evolutionary equilibrium at which all their rates of coevolution exactly balance each other. The lag-load model, which is one way of searching for Red Queens, has, by itself, previously predicted that they do not exist. But this model has assumed that infinite maladaptedness is possible. The lag-load model is improved by assuming that once the lag load of all but one species is determined, so is that of the final species. This assumption eliminates the possibility of infinite maladaptedness. Its result is to allow the lag-load model to yield Red Queen coevolution. It does this whether or not speciation and extinction rates are included. Thus the lag-load model is harmonized with the earlier Red Queen model derived from studies of predation. Because of the intercorrelation of phenotypic traits, the predatory model concluded that the eventual stable rate of coevolution must be zero (except for intermittent bursts after some correlation or compromise is successfully broken). Another model that predicts stable coevolutionary rates of zero is that of evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS). Red Queen assumes that the more extreme a phenotypic trait is, the better it is, and that there are no constraints on the growth of such a phenotypic trait value. Such traits are the key to the Red Queen prediction of progressive coevolution. ESS models make no such assumptions. Eliminating unbounded traits from the model of predator-victim evolution changed its prediction from progressive coevolution to stasis. Before this paper, no model had dealt simultaneously with both unbounded and constrained traits. To handle both sorts of phenotypic traits at the same time in the same model, we abandoned lag load as a measure of evolutionary rate (lag loads do not uniquely determine phenotype). Instead, we used the traditional assumption that rate is proportional to the slope of the adaptive landscape. A model, relying on continuous evolutionary game theory, was developed and simulated under various conditions in two or three species sets, with up to five independent traits coevolving simultaneously. The results were: (1) there was always a set of equilibrium densities eventually achieved by coevolution; if the population interaction represented by this stable coevolutionary state is also stable, then the system should persist whether it evolves further or not; (2) whenever traits were present which were unbounded and best at their most extreme values, then a Red Queen emerged; (3) whenever traits were present which were correlated with each other or constrained below infinity, then an ESS emerged; (4) if both types were present, both results occurred: Red Queen in the unbounded traits and ESS in the constrained ones. Because unbounded traits may not exist, the Red Queen may have no domain. But the domain of ESS is real. ESS should lead to the evolutionary pattern called punctuated equilibrium. The changes in design rules which punctuate stasis should lead to an ever-expanding independence of traits from each other, i.e. to more and more refined differentiation. A single set of design rules which governs a set of species is called a fitness-generating function. Such functions may help to define the concepts of adaptive zone and ecological guild.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-94
Number of pages36
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1987
Externally publishedYes


  • Alice's Constraint
  • ESS
  • Lag load
  • Red Queen
  • White Queen's Constraint
  • adaptive zones
  • bauplan
  • coevolution
  • competitor coevolution
  • constraint surface
  • evolutionary constraints
  • evolutionary rate
  • fitness-generating function
  • genostasis
  • guilds
  • predator coevolution
  • punctuated equilibrium
  • stasis
  • versatility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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