The multifarious effects of dispersal and gene flow on contemporary adaptation


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  • 1Dispersal and gene flow can have a variety of interacting effects on evolution. These effects can either promote or constrain adaptive divergence through either genetic or demographic routes. The relative importance of these effects is unknown because few attempts have been made to conceptually integrate and test them.
  • 2We draw a broad distinction between situations with vs. without strong coevolutionary dynamics. This distinction is important because the adaptive peak for a given population is more mobile in the former than in the latter. This difference makes ongoing evolutionary potential more important in the presence of strong coevolutionary dynamics than in their absence.
  • 3We advance a conceptual integration of the various effects of gene flow and dispersal on adaptive divergence. In line with other authors, but not necessarily for the same reasons, we suggest that an intermediate level of gene flow will allow the greatest adaptive divergence.
  • 4When dispersal is quite low, we predict that an increase will have positive effects on adaptive divergence, owing to genetic/demographic rescue and ‘reinforcement.’ The rescue effect may be more important in small populations and in homogeneous environments. The reinforcement effect may be more common in large populations and in heterogeneous environments.
  • 5Once a certain level of dispersal is reached, we predict that a further increase may have negative effects on adaptive divergence. These effects may arise if carrying capacity is exceeded or maladaptive genes are introduced.
  • 6Many additional effects remain to be integrated into this framework, and doing so may yield novel insights into the factors influencing evolution on ecological time-scales.