Selection is frequency dependent when the fitness of a phenotype, genotype, or gene (or species) varies with its relative abundance in the population (or community) and hence can be detected only when measured at two or more frequencies. In “negative frequency-dependent selection,” fitness decreases with frequency and thus rare genotypes or, in some cases, species, could be maintained at a stable equilibrium. As a form of balancing selection, this mechanism could be one explanation for the persistence of higher than expected levels of genetic variation in natural populations, whether measured at the level of molecules, morphology or behavior. In “positive frequency-dependent selection,” fitness increases with frequency so that rare genotypes are eliminated and local genetic diversity reduced. The importance of frequency-dependent selection in the evolution of natural populations has yet to be fully substantiated, in part perhaps because of the practical difficulties in detecting it and distinguishing it from other types of selection, whether balancing or non-balancing.
Most evolution textbooks devote some pages to frequency-dependent selection, and Bell 2008 is particularly useful as an introduction to its role within species as well as communities. Ayala and Campbell 1974 and Clarke 1979 provide perceptive and readable reviews, updated by Clarke 2002 and Sinervo and Calsbeek 2006. Two collections of multi-authored contributions worth consulting are Clarke and Partridge 1988 and Special issue: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 1984.
Ayala, Francisco J., and Cathryn A. Campbell. 1974. Frequency-dependent selection. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 5:115–138.
A clearly written introduction to the subject, this comprehensive and still pertinent early review covers the theory and experimental evidence in many of the areas in which it is studied today.
Bell, Graham. 2008. Selection: The mechanism of evolution. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
A tour de force covering selection in general and useful in particular for highlighting the practical difficulties in discriminating between heterozygote advantage and frequency-dependent selection as causes of observed changes in genotype frequency.
Clarke, Bryan. 1979. Evolution of genetic diversity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science 205:435–479.
Written at the height of the “neutralist-selectionist” controversy when molecular techniques were in their infancy. The author takes an unashamed stance on frequency-dependent selection being the evolutionary cause of much of the unexpected amounts of genetic variation then being discovered in natural populations.
Clarke, Bryan. 2002. Frequency-dependent selection. In Encyclopedia of evolution. Edited by Mark Pagel. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
A succinct summary covering the main contexts in which frequency-dependent selection operates.
Clarke, Bryan C., and Linda Partridge, eds. 1988. Frequency-dependent selection. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Science 319:457–640.
A wide-ranging collection of twelve papers presented at a Royal Society Discussion Meeting held in London, UK, 24–25 June 1987, to review the then-available evidence for frequency-dependent selection and its evolutionary implications across the biological sciences from molecular biology to ecology.
Sinervo, Barry, and Ryan Calsbeek. 2006. The developmental, physiological, neural, and genetical causes and consequences of frequency-dependent selection in the wild. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 37:581–610.
An impressive classification of the different types of frequency-dependent selection and a major synthesis of its causes and outcomes. Emphasizes the interplay between negative and positive frequency-dependent selection, both within and among species.
Special issue: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 1984. 23:102–268.
Thirteen papers arising from the seventeenth meeting of the Population Genetics Group (UK), held in Southampton, UK, 3–6 January 1984, seven of which focus on frequency-dependent selective predation. Available online.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Adaptive Radiation
- Ancient DNA
- Behavioral Ecology
- Cognition, Evolution of
- Constraints, Evolutionary
- Convergent Evolution
- Cooperation and Conflict: Microbes to Humans
- Cooperative Breeding in Insects and Vertebrates
- Cryptic Female Choice
- Darwin, Charles
- Disease Virulence, Evolution of
- Epigenetics and Behavior
- Evidence of Evolution, The
- Evolution and Development: Genes and Mutations Underlying ...
- Evolution, Cultural
- Evolution of New Genes
- Founder Effect Speciation
- Frequency-Dependent Selection
- Fungi, Evolution of
- Gene Duplication
- Gene Expression, Evolution of
- Gene Flow
- Genetics, Ecological
- Genome Evolution
- Geographic Variation
- History of Evolutionary Thought, 1860-1925
- History of Evolutionary Thought before Darwin
- Human Behavioral Ecology
- Human Evolution
- Hybrid Speciation
- Hybrid Zones
- Inclusive Fitness
- Innovation, Evolutionary
- Kin Selection
- Landscape Genetics
- Landscapes, Adaptive
- Language, Evolution of
- Macroevolutionary Rates
- Male-Male Competition
- Mate Choice
- Medicine, Evolutionary
- Molecular Clocks
- Natural Selection in the Genome, Detecting
- Neutral Theory
- Niche Construction
- Niche Evolution
- Origin and Early Evolution of Animals
- Origin of Life, The
- Paradox of Sex
- Parental Care, Evolution of
- Personality Differences, Evolution of
- Phenotypic Plasticity
- Phylogenetic Trees, Interpretation of
- Polyploid Speciation
- Population Genetics
- Population Structure
- Psychology, Evolutionary
- Punctuated Equilibria
- Quantitative Genetic Variation and Heritability
- Reproductive Proteins, Evolution of
- Selection, Directional
- Selection, Disruptive
- Selection, Natural
- Selection, Sexual
- Selfish Genes
- Sexual Conflict
- Sexual Selection and Speciation
- Speciation Genetics and Genomics
- Speciation, Sympatric
- Species Concepts
- Sperm Competition
- Systems Biology
- Taxonomy and Classification
- Tetrapod Evolution
- Trends, Evolutionary
- Wallace, Alfred Russel