Analyzing eco-evolutionary dynamics – the challenging complexity of the real world

Luc De Meester, Kristien I. Brans, Lynn Govaert, Caroline Souffreau, Shinjini Mukherjee, Héléne Vanvelk, Konrad Korzeniowski, Laurens Kilsdonk, Ellen Decaestecker, Robby Stoks and Mark C. Urban

De Meester - graphical abstractThe field of eco-evolutionary dynamics is developing rapidly, with a growing number of well-designed experiments quantifying the impact of evolution on ecological processes and patterns. The key challenge remains to transfer insights of experiments in highly simplified settings to nature, where multiple species interact. In this paper we discuss the problems associated with studies on eco-evolutionary dynamics that are focused on single species studied in isolation from interspecific interactions. The lack of a multi-species perspective can lead to both under- and overestimation of the impact of evolution on ecological processes.

A literature survey reveals that only a few studies so far developed a truly multi-species approach in their analysis of eco-evolutionary dynamics, and mostly so in highly artificial, constructed communities. We highlight the need for a multi-species perspective in empirical eco-evolutionary studies to increase realism. In this context, we propose a broad-sense definition of eco-evolutionary feedbacks that includes any reciprocal interaction between ecological and evolutionary processes in addition to a narrow-sense definition of an eco-evolutionary feedback loop that refers to interactions that directly feedback on the actors that evolve. We also discuss the challenges and opportunities of using more natural settings in eco-evolutionary studies by gradually adding complexity, and provide a roadmap of methods to study eco-evolutionary dynamics in more natural settings. Eco-evolutionary studies involving multiple species are necessarily demanding and might require intensive collaboration among teams, but are highly needed to move the field forward.

Read the paper in full here.

This paper is part of the cross-journal Special Feature: EcoEvolutionary Dynamics Across Scales.

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