Evolutionary arms race
In evolutionary biology, an evolutionary arms race is an evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

ary struggle between competing sets of co-evolving
In biology, coevolution is "the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object." Coevolution can occur at many biological levels: it can be as microscopic as correlated mutations between amino acids in a protein, or as macroscopic as covarying traits between different...

A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

s that develop adaptations and counter-adaptations against each other, resembling an arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

, which are also examples of positive feedback
Positive feedback
Positive feedback is a process in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system include an increase in the magnitude of the perturbation. That is, A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. In contrast, a system that responds to a perturbation in a way that reduces its effect is...

. The co-evolving gene sets may be in different species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

, as in an evolutionary arms race between a predator species and its prey (Vermeij, 1987), or a parasite
Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Traditionally parasite referred to organisms with lifestages that needed more than one host . These are now called macroparasites...

 and its host. Alternatively, the arms race may be between members of the same species, as in the manipulation/sales resistance model of communication (Dawkins & Krebs, 1979) or as in runaway evolution or Red Queen
Red Queen's Hypothesis
The Red Queen's Hypothesis, also referred to as Red Queen, Red Queen's race or Red Queen Effect, is an evolutionary hypothesis. The term is taken from the Red Queen's race in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass...

 effects. One example of an evolutionary arms race is in sexual conflict
Sexual conflict
Sexual conflict occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly the mode and frequency of mating, leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females. The conflict encompasses the actions and behaviors of both sexes to influence...

 between the sexes. Thierry Lodé
Thierry Lodé
Thierry Lodé is a French biologist and professor who teaches evolutionary ecology in the CNRS Units ETHOS...

 emphasized the role of such antagonist interactions in evolution leading to character displacement
Character displacement
Character displacement refers to the phenomenon where differences among similar species whose distributions overlap geographically are accentuated in regions where the species co-occur but are minimized or lost where the species’ distributions do not overlap. This pattern results from evolutionary...

s and antagonist coevolution. The Escalation hypothesis
Escalation hypothesis
The Escalation Hypothesis is a theory put forward by Geerat J. Vermeij. It states that organisms are in constant conflict with one another and therefore devote lots of resources to thwarting the adaptations evolution brings to all competing organisms as time advances...

 put forward by Geerat Vermeij speaks of more general conflicts and was originally based on his work with marine gastropod fossils.

Co-evolution itself is not necessarily an arms race. For example, mutualism may drive co-operative adaptations in a pair of species. This is the case with certain flowers' ultra-violet color patterns, whose function is to guide bee
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. Bees are a monophyletic lineage within the superfamily Apoidea, presently classified by the unranked taxon name Anthophila...

s to the center of the flower and promote pollination
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in plants, thereby enabling fertilisation and sexual reproduction. Pollen grains transport the male gametes to where the female gamete are contained within the carpel; in gymnosperms the pollen is directly applied to the ovule itself...

. Co-evolution is also interspecific by definition; it excludes intraspecific (within species) arms races such as sexual conflict
Sexual conflict
Sexual conflict occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly the mode and frequency of mating, leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females. The conflict encompasses the actions and behaviors of both sexes to influence...


Evolutionary arms races can even be displayed between humans and micro-organisms, where medical researchers make antibiotics, and micro-organisms evolve into new strains which are more resistant.

Symmetrical versus asymmetrical arms races

Arms races may be classified as either symmetrical or asymmetrical. In a symmetrical arms race, selection pressure acts on participants in the same direction. An example of this is trees growing taller as a result of competition for light, where the selective advantage for either species is increased height. An asymmetrical arms race involves contrasting selection pressures, such as the case of cheetahs and gazelles, where cheetahs evolve to be better at hunting and killing while gazelles evolve not to hunt and kill, but rather to evade capture.

Introduced species

When a species has not been subject to an arms race previously, it may be at a severe disadvantage and face extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 well before it could ever hope to adapt to a new predator, competitor, etc. This should not seem surprising, as one species may have been in evolutionary struggles for millions of years while the other might never have faced such pressures. This is a common problem in isolated ecosystems such as Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 or the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

. In Australia, many invasive species
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

, such as cane toad
Cane Toad
The Cane Toad , also known as the Giant Neotropical Toad or Marine Toad, is a large, terrestrial true toad which is native to Central and South America, but has been introduced to various islands throughout Oceania and the Caribbean...

s and rabbit
Rabbits in Australia
In Australia, rabbits are a serious mammalian pest and are an invasive species. Annually, European rabbits cause millions of dollars of damage to crops.-Effects on Australia's ecology:...

s, have spread rapidly due to a lack of competition or natural predators and a lack of adaptations to cane toads on the part of its prey. Introduced species are a major reason why some indigenous
Indigenous (ecology)
In biogeography, a species is defined as native to a given region or ecosystem if its presence in that region is the result of only natural processes, with no human intervention. Every natural organism has its own natural range of distribution in which it is regarded as native...

 species become endangered or even extinct, as was the case with the dodo
The dodo was a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a meter tall, weighing about , living on fruit, and nesting on the ground....


See also

  • Antipredator adaptation
  • Parent–offspring conflict
  • Parasite-host
    Host (biology)
    In biology, a host is an organism that harbors a parasite, or a mutual or commensal symbiont, typically providing nourishment and shelter. In botany, a host plant is one that supplies food resources and substrate for certain insects or other fauna...

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