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The Enigma of Frequency-Dependent Selection


  • M. Heino
  • J.A.J. Metz
  • V. Kaitala


Frequency-dependent selection is so fundamental to modern evolutionary thinking that everyone interested in evolutionary biology 'knows' the concept. It is even so fundamental that many authors of textbooks do not bother to define it. Yet it turns out that different authors (and sometimes even one and the same author) use the term to refer to different types of selection. In this paper we try to uncover the sources of this confusion. The concept is fairly well defined in the original concept of population genetical theory, which focuses on short-term evolutionary change, and basically ignores density-dependence. The problems start when the original concept is used in the context of long-term evolution, in which density-dependence is essential: without density dependence, lines of descent either die out or explode on the relevant time scales. With density-dependence, the definition of frequency-dependent selection, in the form in which it is usually given, becomes ambiguous. The concept of weak and strong frequency-dependence distinguish between two very different forms of frequency-dependent selection occurring in populations which experience density-dependent population regulation.

Suggested Citation

  • M. Heino & J.A.J. Metz & V. Kaitala, 1997. "The Enigma of Frequency-Dependent Selection," Working Papers ir97061, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:iasawp:ir97061

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