- 1Ecologically significant evolutionary change, occurring over tens of generations or fewer, is now widely documented in nature. These findings counter the long-standing assumption that ecological and evolutionary processes occur on different time-scales, and thus that the study of ecological processes can safely assume evolutionary stasis. Recognition that substantial evolution occurs on ecological time-scales dissolves this dichotomy and provides new opportunities for integrative approaches to pressing questions in many fields of biology.
- 2The goals of this special feature are twofold: to consider the factors that influence evolution on ecological time-scales – phenotypic plasticity, maternal effects, sexual selection, and gene flow – and to assess the consequences of such evolution – for population persistence, speciation, community dynamics, and ecosystem function.
- 3The role of evolution in ecological processes is expected to be largest for traits that change most quickly and for traits that most strongly influence ecological interactions. Understanding this fine-scale interplay of ecological and evolutionary factors will require a new class of eco-evolutionary dynamic modelling.
- 4Contemporary evolution occurs in a wide diversity of ecological contexts, but appears to be especially common in response to anthropogenic changes in selection and population structure. Evolutionary biology may thus offer substantial insight to many conservation issues arising from global change.
- 5Recent studies suggest that fluctuating selection and associated periods of contemporary evolution are the norm rather than exception throughout the history of life on earth. The consequences of contemporary evolution for population dynamics and ecological interactions are likely ubiquitous in time and space.