Make sure to know the definitions

My last post was all about the fun of collecting. Once the data has been collected and analysed it is imperative that you publish your findings. Spread the knowledge.

I have come to one of those writing points recently. One of the chapters of my thesis is ready to be prepared for publication. I was very excited to write it until… the definitions of the terms of my field started getting blurred in my mind. Does this really mean this or can that term be misinterpreted? Does the system that I study really fit properly under this definition? Will the reviewers think I’m completely out of it? These questions started consuming every moment of my days and nights.

I would like to expand on my problem. As I have written before, I work on host-parasite associations. So coevolution, evolutionary arms races and diffuse coevolution are terms I run into daily. The term Coevolution has been thoroughly investigated in the early 1980s when three different authors wrote books about the subject (Thompson 1982, Futuyma and Slatkin 1983, and Nitecki 1983). I have noticed that they have often been misinterpreted in the literature. If a two species are living together in the same area, it does not necessarily mean they are coevolving together. Reciprocal evolutionary changes from both species are necessary to consider it coevolution. Thinking about the study system I study, damselflies develop resistance but they are counter-acted by others, so check! I study coevolution!

Evolutionary arms races are easier to define because in this case it is coevolution with antagonistic relationships. Most published papers and work agree on this, so that one does not give me grief.

Diffuse coevolution on the other hand, I still can’t wrap my head around. Most people define it as coevolution where more than one species coevolve and where one of the species is more successful with one of the other species. I find this a very nebulous term because I think it will very difficult determine whether this is actual coevolution.

I think for my publication, I will have a definition table to clearly state what I mean by the terms I use. Hopefully I use them correctly. If not, the reviewers first and then maybe the readers will be able to assess the definition’s validity

These are just a few of the terms that give me trouble sometimes. I think nebulous terms exist in every field and have to be thoroughly reconsidered. I suggest, once you start working in a field make sure you’re clear on the terms you use and if not, maybe a clear re-definition is necessary for the future workers in the field.


Futuyma, D.J. and Slatkin, M. 1983. Coevolution. Sinauer press. 555pp.

Nitecki, M.H. 1983. Coevolution. University of Chicago press. 392pp.

Thompson, J.N. 1982. Interaction and Coevolution. Wiley press. 179pp.


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