This form of persistent
coevolution has been dubbed an “arms race,” or the “Red Queen effect,”
after her comment to Alice: “You have to run faster and faster just to
stay in the same place!” Where this effect applies, all species keep changing
in a never-ending race simply to sustain their current level of fitness.
have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place!”
In contrast, an “evolutionary
stable strategy” is one where each species is better off not changing
its survival strategy so long as the other species with which it is coevolving
continue to follow their current strategies. The result is an equilibrium,
an ordered regime in which there is no incentive for any species to alter
its strategy. Indeed, if a species were to deviate, its own fitness would
In real ecosystems,
some processes of coevolution may lie in the chaotic and some in the ordered
realm. An ecosystem deep in the ordered regime of an evolutionary stable
strategy will be too rigid, too frozen into place, to coevolve away from
low local peaks. Under the chaos of the Red Queen effect, on the other
hand, species climb and plummet on heaving fitness landscapes, never staying
at a peak. But between these two extremes of low fitness, in the transition
between chaos and order at the “edge of chaos,” peaks are high but can
be attained. Here, fitness can be optimized.
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