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- Is short-term evolution rapid?
- Rapid evolution in an ecological context
- Defining rapid evolution in terms of ecological change
- A general conceptual framework for comparing evolutionary and ecological dynamics
Recent studies have documented rates of evolution of ecologically important phenotypes sufficiently fast that they have the potential to impact the outcome of ecological interactions while they are underway. Observations of this type go against accepted wisdom that ecological and evolutionary dynamics occur at very different time scales. While some authors have evaluated the rapidity of a measured evolutionary rate by comparing it to the overall distribution of measured evolutionary rates, we believe that ecologists are mainly interested in rapid evolution because of its potential to impinge on ecological processes. We therefore propose that rapid evolution be defined as a genetic change occurring rapidly enough to have a measurable impact on simultaneous ecological change. Using this definition we propose a framework for decomposing rates of ecological change into components driven by simultaneous evolutionary change and by change in a non-evolutionary factor (e.g. density dependent population dynamics, abiotic environmental change). Evolution is judged to be rapid in this ecological context if its contribution to ecological change is large relative to the contribution of other factors. We provide a worked example of this approach based on a theoretical predator–prey interaction [Abrams, P. & Matsuda, H. (1997). Evolution, 51, 1740], and find that in this system the impact of prey evolution on predator per capita growth rate is 63% that of internal ecological dynamics. We then propose analytical methods for measuring these contributions in field situations, and apply them to two long-term data sets for which suitable ecological and evolutionary data exist. For both data sets relatively high rates of evolutionary change have been found when measured as character change in standard deviations per generation (haldanes). For Darwin's finches evolving in response to fluctuating rainfall [Grant, P.R. & Grant, B.R. (2002). Science, 296, 707], we estimate that evolutionary change has been more rapid than ecological change by a factor of 2.2. For a population of freshwater copepods whose life history evolves in response to fluctuating fish predation [Hairston, N.G. Jr & Dillon, T.A. (1990). Evolution, 44, 1796], we find that evolutionary change has been about one quarter the rate of ecological change – less than in the finch example, but nevertheless substantial. These analyses support the view that in order to understand temporal dynamics in ecological processes it is critical to consider the extent to which the attributes of the system under investigation are simultaneously changing as a result of rapid evolution.