We examine the role played by crossover in a series of genetic algorithm-based evolutionary simulations of the iterated prisoner's dilemma. The simulations are characterized by extended periods of stability, during which evolutionarily meta-stable strategies remain more or less fixed in the population, interrupted by transient, unstable episodes triggered by the appearance of adaptively targeted predators. This leads to a global evolutionary pattern whereby the population shifts from one of a few evolutionarily metastable strategies to another to evade emerging predator strategies. While crossover is not particularly helpful in producing better average scores, it markedly enhances overall evolutionary stability. We show that crossover achieves this by (1) impeding the appearance and spread of targeted predator strategies during stable phases, and (2) greatly reducing the duration of unstable epochs, presumably by efficient recombination of building blocks to rediscover prior metastable strategies. We also speculate that during stable phases, crossover's operation on the persistently heterogeneous gene pool enhances the survival of useful building blocks, thus sustaining long-range temporal correlations in the evolving population. Empirical support for this conjecture is found in the extended tails of probability distribution functions for stable phase lifetimes.

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