We examine the dynamics of evolution in a generic spatial model of a pathogen infecting a population of hosts, or an analogous predator–prey system. Previous studies of this model have found a range of interesting phenomena that differ from the well-mixed version. We extend these studies by examining the spatial and temporal dynamics of strains using genealogical tracing. When transmissibility can evolve by mutation, strains of intermediate transmissibility dominate even though high-transmissibility mutants have a short-term reproductive advantage. Mutant strains continually arise and grow rapidly for many generations but eventually go extinct before dominating the system. We find that, after a number of generations, the mutant pathogen characteristics strongly impact the spatial distribution of their local host environment, even when there are diverse types coexisting. Extinction is due to the depletion of susceptibles in the local environment of these mutant strains. Studies of spatial and genealogical relatedness reveal the self-organized spatial clustering of strains that enables their impact on the local environment. Thus, we find that selection acts against the high-transmissibility strains on long time-scales as a result of the feedback due to environmental change. Our study shows that averages over space or time should not be assumed to adequately describe the evolutionary dynamics of spatially distributed host–pathogen systems.