Memetic algorithms (MAs) have demonstrated very effective in combinatorial optimization. This paper offers explanations as to why this is so by investigating the performance of MAs in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. A special class of MAs is used to discuss efficiency and effectiveness for local search and evolutionary meta-search. It is shown that the efficiency of MAs can be increased drastically with the use of domain knowledge. However, effectiveness highly depends on the structure of the problem. As is well-known, identifying this structure is made easier with the notion of fitness landscapes: the local properties of the fitness landscape strongly influence the effectiveness of the local search while the global properties strongly influence the effectiveness of the evolutionary meta-search.
This paper also introduces new techniques for analyzing the fitness landscapes of combinatorial problems; these techniques focus on the investigation of random walks in the fitness landscape starting at locally optimal solutions as well as on the escape from the basins of attractions of current local optima. It is shown for NK-landscapes and landscapes of the unconstrained binary quadratic programming problem (BQP) that a random walk to another local optimum can be used to explain the efficiency of recombination in comparison to mutation. Moreover, the paper shows that other aspects like the size of the basins of attractions of local optima are important for the efficiency of MAs and a local search escape analysis is proposed. These simple analysis techniques have several advantages over previously proposed statistical measures and provide valuable insight into the behaviour of MAs on different kinds of landscapes.