Evolutionary arms races

Published on October 1, 2007 Reviewed on October 12, 2015   39 min

Other Talks in the Series: Evolution and Medicine

Hello, and welcome to the lecture on Evolutionary Arms Races. I'm Mark Pagel. The idea of an arms race is a central concept in evolution. And we will see over the next 45 minutes or so, that they are widespread and common in nature, and that the shape animal morphology, behavior, and even their genetics. The lecture will be divided into three parts. In the first, we will define arms races, and distinguish them from things that are not arms races. The second part of the lecture will take up features of arms races, and look for those features in real biological examples. The third part will present three case studies of arms races in more detail. Throughout the lecture, scientific papers will be mentioned, and a list of these will be provided at the end.
Let's begin by defining what we mean by an arms race. The term is often used to describe competitive situations in which the goal is merely to stay ahead of another competitor. The competitions might be among individuals, among nations, or between biological species. The key feature of an arms race is there is no absolute goal. Rather, arms races are typified by one party having the continuing goal of being better at, or being able to deflect whatever the other party is doing. It's of some interest that according to the Oxford English Dictionary the phrase was first used in print in 1936, referring to the buildup of arms leading to World War II. However, the concept has been around far longer. For example, we know that Darwin was aware of it. Perhaps, the best known arms race,