Spatial structure is thought to be an important factor influencing the emergence and maintenance of genetic diversity. Previous studies have demonstrated that environmental heterogeneity, provided by spatial structure, leads to adaptive radiation of populations. In the present study, we investigate not only the impact of environmental heterogeneity on adaptive radiation, but also of population fragmentation and niche construction. Replicate populations founded by a single genotype of Escherichia coli were allowed to evolve for 900 generations by serial transfer in either a homogeneous environment, or a spatially structured environment that was either kept intact or destroyed with each daily transfer. Only populations evolving in the structured environment with intact population structure diversified: clones are significantly divergent in sugar catabolism, and show frequency-dependent fitness interactions indicative of stable coexistence. These findings demonstrate an important role for population fragmentation, a consequence of population structure in spatially structured environments, on the diversification of populations.
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