Red Queen Hypothesis


Van Valen's Red Queen hypothesis is a model of coevolution driven by competitive interactions between species. It contrasts with the stationary or ‘lost world’ model, in which evolution is driven primarily by environmental change.

Keywords: coevolution; competition; extinction; evolutionary progress; survival analysis

Figure 1.

Conceptual diagram to explain the different predictions of the Red Queen and stationary models of community evolution. In the Red Queen model, evolution is driven by biotic interactions and occurs at a stochastically constant rate (diagonal line). In the stationary model, evolution and extinction only occur during times of environmental change (darker regions). At these times, the predicted pattern is similar to the Red Queen model. However, evolution ceases in the stationary model during times of environmental stability (unshaded regions). Long periods of environmental stability (e.g. Period 6) may produce ‘Lost Worlds’ consisting of ancient and long‐lived species.



Cliff D and Miller GF (1995) Tracking the Red Queen – measurements of adaptive progress in co‐evolving simulations. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 929: 200–218.

Darwin C (1859) On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray.

Lively CM (1987) Evidence from a New Zealand snail for the maintenance of sex by parasitism. Nature 328: 519–521.

Pearson PN (1992) Survival analysis of fossil taxa when real‐time extinction rates vary: the Paleogene planktonic foraminifera. Paleobiology 18: 115–131.

Pearson PN (1998) Speciation and extinction asymmetries in paleontological phylogenies: evidence for evolutionary progress? Paleobiology 24: 305–335.

Stenseth NC and Maynard Smith J (1984) Coevolution in ecosystems: Red Queen evolution or stasis? Evolution 38: 870–880.

Van Valen L (1973) A new evolutionary law. Evolutionary Theory 1: 1–30.

Wei K and Kennett JP (1986) Taxonomic evolution of Neogene planktonic foraminifera and palaeoceanographic relations. Palaeoceanography 1: 67–84.

Further Reading

Benton M (1985) At the court of the Red Queen. New Scientist November: 52–54.

Ridley M (1993) The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. London: Penguin.

Ridley M (1996) Evolution, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Blackwell.

Skelton P (ed.) (1993) Evolution: a Biological and Palaeontological Approach. Wokingham: Addison Wesley.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Pearson, Paul N(Apr 2001) Red Queen Hypothesis. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001667]