The Coevolutionary Process
by John N. Thompson
University of Chicago Press, 1994
Cloth: 978-0-226-79759-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-79760-1 | Electronic: 978-0-226-79767-0


Traditional ecological approaches to species evolution have frequently studied too few species, relatively small areas, and relatively short time spans. In The Coevolutionary Process, John N. Thompson advances a new conceptual approach to the evolution of species interactions—the geographic mosaic theory of coevolution. Thompson demonstrates how an integrated study of life histories, genetics, and the geographic structure of populations yields a broader understanding of coevolution, or the development of reciprocal adaptations and specializations in interdependent species.

Using examples of species interactions from an enormous range of taxa, Thompson examines how and when extreme specialization evolves in interdependent species and how geographic differences in specialization, adaptation, and the outcomes of interactions shape coevolution. Through the geographic mosaic theory, Thompson bridges the gap between the study of specialization and coevolution in local communities and the study of broader patterns seen in comparisons of the phylogenies of interacting species.


"[Thompson] argues convincingly that intense study of interactions between species within local areas and phylogenetic analyses of species interactions illuminate only a fraction of the coevolutionary process. Instead, he emphasizes that one must also consider geographic variation in these interactions . . . . This book has a lot to recommend it."

— Trends in Ecology & Evolution

“In this well-documented and clearly written book, Thompson has managed to integrate an enormous body of literature in a clear-eyed overview of a difficult and diverse field. We are impressed not only with the scope of the book, which includes a myriad of examples from a variety of taxa, but also with the attention to detail.”

— Carlos Martínez del Rio and Diane Wagner, Princeton University

“The importance of Thompson’s geographical perspective cannot be overstated. Thompson uses it to turn existing views on their head. In particular, he very effectively dismantles our idea of diffuse coevolution by illustrating with numerous examples how what appears to be diffuse is probably much more specific when one looks at the variability in interactions among populations or time periods. I believe that the geographical perspective on coevolution may turn out to be the greatest advance in coevolutionary thinking in years.”

— Sara Via, Cornell University




Part I. The Entangled Bank

1 Specialization within Darwin's Entangled Bank

2 From the Entangled Bank to the Evolutionary Synthesis

3 Specialization and Coevolution since the Evolutionary Synthesis

Part II. The Evolution of Specialization

4 Phylogeny of Specialization

5 Evolutionary Genetics of Specialization

6 Ontogeny of Specialization

Part III. Natural Selection and the Geographic Structure of Specialization

7 Why Parasitism Is Special

8 Choosing among Multiple Victims

9 Coping with Multiple Enemies: The Geogrraphy of Defense

10 Extreme Specialization in Mutualists

11 Further Limitations on Specialization in Mutualisms

Part IV. Specialization and Coevolution

12 Genetics of Coevolution

13 The Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution

14 Diversifying Coevolution

15 Assymetries in Specialization and Coevolution

16 Pushing the Limits of Coevolution

Synthesis: The Geographic Mosaic in Evolving Interactions

Epilogue: Specialization, Coevolution, and Conservation

Literature Cited