One of the key innovations during the evolution of life on earth has been the emergence of efficient communication systems, yet little is known about the causes and consequences of the great diversity within and between species. By conducting experimental evolution in 20 independently evolving populations of cooperatively foraging simulated robots, we found that historical contingency in the occurrence order of novel phenotypic traits resulted in the emergence of two distinct communication strategies. The more complex foraging strategy was less efficient than the simpler strategy. However, when the 20 populations were placed in competition with each other, the populations with the more complex strategy outperformed the populations with the less complex strategy. These results demonstrate a tradeoff between communication efficiency and robustness and suggest that stochastic events have important effects on signal evolution and the outcome of competition between distinct populations.