Evolutionary game dynamics in finite populations with strong selection and weak mutation

Drew Fudenberg, Martin A. Nowak, Christine Taylor, Lorens A. Imhof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


We study stochastic game dynamics in finite populations. To this end we extend the classical Moran process to incorporate frequency-dependent selection and mutation. For 2 × 2 games, we give a complete analysis of the long-run behavior when mutation rates are small. For 3 × 3 coordination games, we provide a simple rule to determine which strategy will be selected in large populations. The expected motion in our model resembles the standard replicator dynamics when the population is large, but is qualitatively different when the population is small. Our analysis shows that even in large finite populations the behavior of a replicator-like system can be different from that of the standard replicator dynamics. As an application, we consider selective language dynamics. We determine which language will be spoken in finite large populations. The results have an intuitive interpretation but would not be expected from an analysis of the replicator dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-363
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Coordination game
  • Favored strategy
  • Frequency-dependent selection
  • Imitation process
  • Language dynamics
  • Moran process
  • Replicator dynamics
  • Risk-dominance
  • Selected strategy
  • Stochastic dynamics


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