In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Coevolution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Special Issues in Journals
  • History

Ecology Coevolution
Michael A. Brockhurst, Kayla C. King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0041


Coevolution, the reciprocal evolutionary change of ecologically interacting species, is a central process shaping the structure of biological communities and affects almost all organisms on earth. Its power as an evolutionary force arises from the often intense selection imposed by interactions between species, and from the fact that other species themselves evolve, thereby necessitating continual and sometimes rapid evolutionary change. The pattern and process of coevolution can be observed both at the microevolutionary (e.g., evolution of traits among populations) and macroevolutionary scales (e.g., generation of new species). From a microevolutionary perspective, coevolution can give rise to rapid evolutionary dynamics that may affect ecological processes; moreover, coevolution leads to the evolution of adaptations (and counter-adaptations) in interacting species and thereby may give rise to coadaptation of traits between species. Coevolution can drive divergent microevolutionary trajectories both within and between populations potentially leading to diversification and ultimately speciation. Thus, coevolution is a process linking microevolution and macroevolution. From a macroevolutionary perspective, tightly coevolving species may cospeciate such that the phylogenies of interacting clades appear congruent. This bibliography begins with a historical perspective, before considering conceptual issues surrounding coevolution and the debates that have shaped the field. The key publications exploring the pattern and process of coevolution at both microevolutionary and macroevolutionary scales are outlined.

General Overviews

There have been relatively few general overviews of coevolution published in either book or article format. An early edited volume, Futuyma and Slatkin 1983, draws a line under the first twenty years of coevolution research with articles from the main scholars in the field. The single-author books, Thompson 1982, Thompson 1994, and Thompson 2005, and an article by the same author (Thompson 1999) draw together a wealth of natural history examples to propose a conceptual framework for modern coevolutionary research. Wade 2007 considers how cutting-edge genomics and the emerging field of community genetics can inform our understanding of the coevolutionary process.

  • Futuyma, D. J., and M. Slatkin, eds. 1983. Coevolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    This is an edited volume bringing together an interesting mix of articles by some of the leading coevolution researchers working at the time.

  • Thompson, J. N. 1982. Interaction and coevolution. New York: Wiley.

    This was the first full-length single-authored text on coevolution, which Thompson followed-up with Thompson 1994 and Thompson 2005, respectively.

  • Thompson, J. N. 1994. The coevolutionary process. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This is a wonderfully written and readable overview of coevolutionary research up to the 1990s. The book outlines the historical development of coevolutionary thinking. Additionally, Thompson 1994 surveys a broad range of natural history examples to make a compelling case for why coevolution is such an important process in shaping the evolution of diversity and the structure of communities.

  • Thompson, J. N. 1999. The evolution of species interactions. Science 284:2116–2118.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2116

    A concise article summarizing some of the arguments and evidence presented in Thompson 1994.

  • Thompson, J. N. 2005. The geographic mosaic of coevolution. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Thompson’s geographic mosaic theory of coevolution (GMTC) is the leading paradigm for understanding the coevolutionary process. It proposes that the environment, both abiotic and biotic, alters the rate and direction of coevolution generating selection mosaics across landscapes. Thereafter, gene flow and remixing of traits between subpopulations plays a key role in shaping coevolutionary pattern and process.

  • Wade, M. J. 2007. The co-evolutionary genetics of ecological communities. Nature Reviews Genetics 8:185–195.

    DOI: 10.1038/nrg2031

    Discusses the evidence for coevolution from an evolutionary genetics perspective and describes the different ways in which coevolution has been detected. The author also outlines how we can advance our understanding of coevolution by using molecular and comparative genomics, as well as community genetics.

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