The geometry of evolutionary conflict

Petri Tapio Rautiala*, Andy Gardner

*Corresponding author for this work

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Conflicts of interest abound not only in human affairs but also in the biological realm. Evolutionary conflict occurs over multiple scales of biological organization, from genetic outlawry within genomes, to sibling rivalry within nuclear families, to collective-action disputes within societies. However, achieving a general understanding of the dynamics and consequences of evolutionary conflict remains an outstanding challenge. Here, we show that a development of R. A. Fisher's classic ‘geometric model’ of adaptation yields novel and surprising insights into the dynamics of evolutionary conflict and resulting maladaptation, including the discoveries that: (i) conflict can drive evolving traits arbitrarily far away from all parties' optima and, indeed, if all mutations are equally likely then contested traits are more often than not driven outwith the zone of actual conflict (hyper-maladaptation); (ii) evolutionary conflicts drive persistent maladaptation of orthogonal, non-contested traits (para-maladaptation); and (iii) modular design greatly ameliorates conflict-driven maladaptation, thereby facilitating major transitions in individuality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20222423
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1992
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2023


  • Cost of complexity
  • Maladaptation
  • Modularity
  • Major transitions
  • Fisher's geometric model
  • Conflict


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