Evolutionary Game Theory, Coevolution and Red Queen Syndrome.

Evolutionary game theory (EGT) is the application of game theory to evolving populations of life forms in biology. It is especially useful for understanding the phenomenon of coevolution. Coevolution is change in one species triggered by the change in another species.


Coevolution game can be competitive or non competitive.


In competitive coevolution, the relation between two players is that of hunter and prey. Here conflict is for survival. The two players make changes in their bodies (mutation) in order to win the race for survival. Best example is that of rough skinned newt and garter snake. Garter snake eats newt. In order to survive the newt makes itself toxic, while garter snake develops capability to neutralize poison. Over a period of time to survive the newt has made itself more and more toxic, some are so toxic that a newt has enough poison to kill more than 20 adult humans, while garter snake has managed to evolve defenses to digest poison and eat newt.


As per game theory, each strategy of player has tradeoffs. While high toxicity improves chances of survival for newt, but it also results in production of lesser offspring. For garter snake higher capability to digest poison results in lesser speed.

newt trade offsnake vs newt

The conflict resembles Red Queen Syndrome- one is running faster and faster to stay in same place. Each is undergoing mutation just to survive.

red queen

Those working in organizations with lot of negative politics and toxic organizational culture can identify themselves with this game.


Non-competitive game is mutually beneficial. The two players make modifications (mutations) that are beneficial to both, resulting in symbiotic relationship. In fact if one species dies than survival of other is at stake. A flower called Darwin’s Orchid has very long nectary i.e. place where nectar is stored to attract a moth – almost 30 cms. To reach that nectar the moth should have a unusually long proboscis, the Morgan’s Spinx moth has such a structure, which helps it to reach the nectar (proboscis of 38 cms) and in process gather pollens necessary for pollination. In other words if moth was a human with height of 6 feet, his tongue would be around 18 feet!


While relation is mutually beneficial, if moth were to disappear, survival of orchid will be at stake.

Darwin's moth and its absurdly long proboscis

In corporate world, dependence of vendors on organization for which they make customized products, may result in similar dilemma i.e. if organization stops production line, it may impact survival of vendor.













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