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New book on coevolution by biologist John Thompson

By Tim Stephens

Coevolution shapes the interactions between species, whether predators and prey, hosts and parasites, or mutually beneficial partnerships such as those between flowering plants and their pollinators. In fact, most plants and animals require coevolved interactions with other species in order to survive.

Photo of Marc Rhode

John N. Thompson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has now published his third book on the subject of coevolution, The Geographic Mosaic of Coevolution (University of Chicago Press, 2005).

Thompson defines coevolution as "reciprocal evolutionary change in interacting species driven by natural selection." It is one of the most important processes in the evolution and organization of life on Earth.

"One of the things we've come to realize is that much of evolution turns out to be coevolution, and ecological communities are based on these deeply coevolved relationships between species," he said.

Thompson's research and books have been highly influential in the development of coevolution as a field of research. His previous book, The Coevolutionary Process (1994) provided the framework for a geographic mosaic theory of coevolution, which emphasizes that every species is a collection of genetically distinct populations that are linked across landscapes, resulting in complex geographic mosaics of species interactions that can evolve differently in different locations.

The field has developed rapidly over the past ten years. In the new book, Thompson integrates approaches from evolutionary ecology, population genetics, phylogeography, systematics, evolutionary biochemistry and physiology, and molecular biology. Using models, data, and hypotheses to develop a complete conceptual framework, the book draws on examples from a wide range of taxa and environments, illustrating the expanding breadth and depth of research in coevolutionary biology.

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