The role of stressors in altering eco-evolutionary dynamics

Loukas Theodosiou, Teppo Hiltunen and Lutz Becks

For some time now, we have realised that ecological and evolutionary time scales can overlap, and that ecological and rapid evolutionary processes can directly affect each other within a few generations. For example, when predators consume prey, those prey can rapidly evolve anti-predatory defences and this can in turn reduce the predators’ population size. But species also live in contact with their abiotic environment which is not always a pleasant place. Species can overcome environmental stress with evolutionary adaptations, for example when bacteria evolve resistance when we try to kill them with antibiotics. Most studies so far have focused on eco-evolutionary dynamics without the further complication of adding an environmental stress into the picture. This is however a necessary step that we need to take to quantify and understand how ecological and evolutionary dynamics interact in more complex natural settings.

Hiltunen - 00486 - graphical abstractIn our perspective paper we review and synthesize evidence from the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology and population genetics to investigate how the presence of abiotic stress can affect the feedback between ecological and evolutionary dynamics. We use a conceptual predator prey model to discuss different scenarios for how an abiotic stress can influence eco- evolutionary dynamics. We explore how the abiotic stress can change the pace and the potential for evolutionary adaptation, which then further alters the links between evolution and ecology. Overall, we report ecological and population genetic mechanisms that have not been investigated from an eco-evolutionary perspective. We further suggest future research directions and experiments to develop an understanding of the role of eco-evolutionary dynamics in more complex ecological and evolutionary scenarios.

Read the paper in full here.

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

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