Her Majesty Steps Randomly


The Red Queen’s hypothesis was introduced into evolutionary biology by Leigh van Valen 1973 in order to explain why the probability of extinction for a given population is constant and does not depend on its age. The hypothesis—taking its name from an uttering by the formidable Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There—proposes that, in an ever-changing environment, populations must keep running (i.e. evolving) to stay in the same place (that is, not fall over the edge into extinction). In their Nature paper ”Reconciling taxon senescence with the Red Queen’s hypothesis”, Indrė Žliobaitė, Mikael Fortelius and Nils Christian Stenseth focus on taxon expansion rather than survival, and thus resolve the apparent contradiction between the patterns of waxing and waning patterns of occupancy, range or diversity observed from the fossil record; and the randomness of extinction implied by the Red Queen’s hypothesis.

Drawing commissioned by Mikael Fortelius for use in association with the paper. A pleasant task, I say.

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