Red Queen effect

Figure 1. Red Queen dynamics: results from a computer simulation for host-parasite coevolution. The blue line gives the frequency of one host genotype; the red line gives the frequency of the parasite genotype that can infect it. Note that both genotypes oscillate over time, as if they were "running" in circles. The model assumes that hosts have self-nonself recognition systems, which can detect foreign organisms. The model also assumes that hosts and parasites both reproduce sexually.

Valen named the idea “the Red Queen hypothesis” which means species had to “run” (evolve) in order to stay in the same place “extant” (Lively, C.M., n.d.).

At an evolutionary standpoint, a closely interactive relationship, such as predator and prey or host and parasite, continuously evolves in order to remain at their present fitness levels (Powell & Buchanan, 2011).  

This concept is named after Lewis Carroll’s character in Through the Looking-Glass. In chapter 2 the “Red Queen hypothesis” is presented. Alice is climbing a hill in order to view a garden. Ahead of her appears to be a straight path to the garden, but as she follows the path, she returns to the same location—a house. As she moves faster, in hopes to reach the garden, she returns to the house at full speed and crashes into it. As a result, her seemingly movement forward returns her back to her starting point (Red Queen dynamics), and the quick movement stops her in place (extinction).

At last, Alice arrives in the garden where she learns about the Red Queen from the flowers. When the Queen appears, Alice chases her. When they both stop running, they see that they are exactly at the same location. Alice notices this and the Red Queen tells her that you can run but you will remain in the same place. This is true for coevolution as evolutionary change occurs, a species may remain at a standstill, and ceasing to change can result in extinction (Lively, C.M., n.d.).


Lively, C.M. (n.d).  Red queen hypothesis. Retrieved from

Powell, R. & Buchanan, A. (2011). Breaking evolution’s chains: the prospect of deliberate genetic modification in humans. Journal of medicine and philosophy. 36 (1), 6-27.

WGBH educational foundation and clear blue sky productions. (2001). From Evolution: “Why Sex?” Retrieved from ]






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