Multi-Agent Simulation of Evolution

In this project we investigate the biological phenomenon of aposematism (also referred to as warning coloration). This term describes the evolutionary strategy of certain animal species to indicate their unpalatability/toxicity to potential predators by developing skin colors and patterns that can be easily perceived by them. Prominent examples of toxic animals with distinct warning coloration are poison dart frogs, coral snakes and fire salamanders.

The evolution of aposematism has intrigued many biologists, because at first glance, an evolutionary paradox seems to be underlying: Why would unpalatable prey animals acquire conspicious warning coloration if this trait makes them more likely to be spotted and eaten by predators? Given that aposematism can be frequently observed in the animal world, the question arises how these warning signals could have evolved so many times despite their apparent evolutionary disadvantage. The paradox is even aggravated by the fact that in its inital stage of evolution, the proposed benefit of aposematic colors (i.e. making it easier for predators to learn the prey’s unpalatability) cannot be present. Consequently, the evolution of aposematism has spurred more than a century of scientific discussion and investigation; it has been addressed both experimentally and theoretically.

For tackling this interesting research challenge, we developed a distributed multi-agent model that simulates the dynamic interactions of predator and prey populations over time. By systematically testing different adaptation and learning strategies for the agents and exploring the parameter space of our simulation model using the computational power of the dDM project, we might be able to deepen the understanding of the aposematism phenomenon and the evolutionary paths leading to it.