Arms races between and within species

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Containing Papers of a Biological Character
R Dawkins, J R Krebs


An adaptation in one lineage (e.g. predators) may change the selection pressure on another lineage (e.g. prey), giving rise to a counter-adaptation. If this occurs reciprocally, an unstable runaway escalation or 'arms race' may result. We discuss various factors which might give one side an advantage in an arms race. For example, a lineage under strong selection may out-evolve a weakly selected one (' the life-dinner principle'). We then classify arms races in two independent ways. They may be symmetric or asymmetric, and they may be interspecific or intraspecific. Our example of an asymmetric interspecific arms race is that between brood parasites and their hosts. The arms race concept may help to reduce the mystery of why cuckoo hosts are so good at detecting cuckoo eggs, but so bad at detecting cuckoo nestlings. The evolutionary contest between queen and worker ants over relative parental investment is a good example of an intraspecific asymmetric arms race. Such cases raise special problems because the participants share the same gene pool. Interspecific symmetric arms races are unlikely to be important, because competitors tend to diverge rather than escalate competitive adaptations. Intraspecific symmetric arms races, exe...Continue Reading


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