Perspective: Integrating fundamental processes to understand eco-evolutionary community dynamics and patterns

Govaert, Lynn; Altermatt, Florian; De Meester, Luc; Leibold, Mathew; McPeek, Mark; Pantel, Jelena; Urban, Mark

Conceptual figure showcasing the four processes of evolutionary biology (selection, gene flow, genetic drift and mutation) and community ecology (species sorting, dispersal, ecological drift and speciation). Each of these processes influences either genetic or community diversity, respectively. An eco-evolutionary view on community ecology envisions pairwise interactions between evolutionary and community processes resulting in a dynamical interplay between evolution and community dynamics.
Conceptual figure showcasing the four processes of evolutionary biology (selection, gene flow, genetic drift and mutation) and community ecology (species sorting, dispersal, ecological drift and speciation). Each of these processes influences either genetic or community diversity, respectively. An eco-evolutionary view on community ecology envisions pairwise interactions between evolutionary and community processes resulting in a dynamical interplay between evolution and community dynamics.

cumulating evidence for rapid and fine-scale evolution has made it clear that evolutionary and ecological processes should be studied together. Earlier work on the interaction between evolutionary and ecological dynamics mainly focused on the effect of evolution on population abundances, but lately, more and more studies demonstrate the potential for evolution to interact with ecology and thereby explain community dynamics and patterns.

In this review, we create a framework that evaluates four key processes from evolutionary biology (i.e., selection, gene flow, genetic drift and mutation) along with analogous ones from community ecology (i.e., species sorting, dispersal, ecological drift and speciation). We then highlight examples of how each of these evolutionary processes can alter each of the other community processes and vice versa. By explicitly studying these interactions, we find novel outcomes that cannot be explained by purely community or evolutionary processes alone. We highlight a number of these examples that are just beginning to be explored in theoretical and empirical research, while also highlighting understudied interactions such as between neutral evolutionary and community processes.

The framework proposed in this review provides a roadmap for identifying which evolutionary and community processes are (inter)acting in a given study system and their potential importance. Moreover, by focusing on these interactions, we suggest ways to design novel experiments and observational studies to separate the variable contributions of their independent and interactive effects. Identifying the key evolutionary and community processes within and across various study systems and their impacts on community dynamics and patterns will lead to a better understanding for when and where to expect interactions between specific evolutionary and community processes.

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