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It is easier to predict the ecological and evolutionary outcomes of interactions in less diverse communities. As species are added to communities, their direct and indirect interactions multiply, their niches may shift, and there may be increased ecological redundancy. Accompanying this complexity in ecological interactions, is also complexity in selection and subsequent evolution, which may feed back to affect the ecology of the system, as species with different traits may play different ecological roles. Drawing from my own work and that of many others, I first discuss what we currently understand about ecology and evolution in light of simple and diverse communities, and suggest the importance of escape from community complexity per se in the success of invaders. Then, I examine how community complexity may influence the nature and magnitude of eco-evolutionary feedbacks, classifying eco-evolutionary dynamics into three general types: those generating alternative stable states, cyclic dynamics, and those maintaining ecological stasis and stability. The latter may be important and yet very hard to detect. I suggest future directions, as well as discuss methodological approaches and their potential pitfalls, in assessing the importance and longevity of eco-evolutionary feedbacks in complex communities.

Synthesis

The ecology, evolution and eco-evolutionary dynamics of simple and diverse communities are reviewed. In more diverse communities, direct and indirect interactions multiply, species’ niches often shift, ecological redundancy can increase, and selection may be less directional. Community complexity may influence the magnitude and nature of eco-evolutionary dynamics, which are classified into three types: those generating alternative stable states, cyclic dynamics, and those maintaining ecological stasis and stability. Strengths and pitfalls of approaches to investigating eco-evolutionary feedbacks in complex field communities are discussed.