Cumulative frequency-dependent selective episodes allow for rapid morph cycles and rock-paper-scissors dynamics in species with overlapping generations

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Rock-paper-scissors (RPS) dynamics, which maintain genetic polymorphisms over time through negative frequency-dependent (FD) selection, can evolve in short-lived species with no generational overlap, where they produce rapid morph frequency cycles. However, most species have overlapping generations and thus, rapid RPS dynamics are thought to require stronger FD selection, the existence of which yet needs to be proved. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that two cumulative selective episodes, FD sexual selection reinforced by FD selection on offspring survival, generate sufficiently strong selection to generate rapid morph frequency cycles in the European common lizard Zootoca vivipara, a multi-annual species with major generational overlap. These findings show that the conditions required for the evolution of RPS games are fulfilled by almost all species exhibiting genetic polymorphisms and suggest that RPS games may be responsible for the maintenance of genetic diversity in a wide range of species.

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