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Adaptive Evolution in Ecological Communities

Figure 2

Evolutionary outcomes caused by differences in community composition.

Cartoon examples of how community complexity can lead to unexpected ecological and evolutionary outcomes in populations. The illustrations are taken from a subset of idealized simulations that are depicted as animations in Movies 1–6. The panels on the left (A,C,E) represent initial conditions at the beginning of a simulation, and the panels on the right (B,D,F) show populations and communities after evolution has reached an equilibrium. In these examples, different consumer species (purple, green, and yellow) move in the environment consuming renewable resources (green circles and red squares; orange diamonds represent excrement). If they consume enough resources they reproduce, and if they do not they die. In all cases, species start as generalist consumers, represented here as non-specialized mouth parts capable of consuming any resource. Species can subsequently evolve to specialize on a resource by changing mouth shape to correspond to resource shape, which increases resource capture efficiency and reproduction. In reality, these examples apply to any case where a trait influences consumer efficiency, whether it involves morphological (e.g., beak morphology), physiological (e.g., metabolic rate), or behavioral (hunting method) change. (A) and (B) represent the evolution of specialization in a one species community. A single generalist species feeds on a common resource and evolves more efficient resource consumption (Movie 1). (C) and (D) represent the evolution of character displacement in a two-species community whereby two generalist consumer species initially compete for two limited resources. Competition causes each species to specialize on different resources and thus avoid extinction (Movie 3). (E) and (F) represent coexistence of three species that evolve to specialize on one of the two limited resources (green circles and red squares) or on the waste products produced by other species (orange diamonds) (Movie 6), as observed by Lawrence et al. [26].

Figure 2

doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001332.g002