Evolutionary suicide

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Evolutionary suicide is an evolutionary phenomenon in which the process of adaptation causes the population to become extinct. For example, individuals might be selected to switch from eating mature plants to seedlings, and thereby deplete their food plant's population. Selection on individuals can theoretically produce adaptations that threaten the survival of the population.

Much of the research on evolutionary suicide has used the mathematical modeling technique adaptive dynamics, in which genetic changes are studied together with population dynamics. This allows the model to predict how population density will change as a given trait invades the population.

Evolutionary suicide has also been referred to as "Darwinian extinction", "Runaway selection to self-extinction" or "Evolutionary collapse".[citation needed] The idea is similar in concept to the Tragedy of the Commons or the Tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

Many adaptations have apparently negative effects on population dynamics, for example infanticide by male lions, or the production of toxins by bacteria. However, empirically establishing that an extinction event was unambiguously caused by the process of adaptation is not a trivial task.

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References and external links[edit]


  • Gyllenberg, M. & K. Parvinen. 2001. Necessary and sufficient conditions for evolutionary suicide. Bull. Math. Biol. 63, 981–993, doi:10.1006/bulm.2001.0253


  • Parvinen, K. 2005. Evolutionary suicide. Acta Biotheoretica 53, 241–264