Rapid prey evolution can alter the structure of predator–prey communities



Although microevolution has been shown to play an important role in pairwise antagonistic species interactions, its importance in more complex communities has received little attention. Here, we used two Pseudomonas fluorescens prey bacterial strains (SBW25 and F113) and Tetrahymena thermophila protist predator to study how rapid evolution affects the structuring of predator–prey communities. Both bacterial strains coexisted in the absence of predation, and F113 was competitively excluded in the presence of both SBW25 and predator during the 24-day experiment, an initially surprising result given that F113 was originally poorer at growing, but more resistant to predation. However, this can be explained by SBW25 evolving greater antipredatory defence with a lower growth cost than F113. These results show that rapid prey evolution can alter the structure of predator–prey communities, having different effects depending on the initial composition of the evolving community. From a more applied perspective, our results suggest that the effectiveness of biocontrol bacteria, such as F113, could be weaker in communities characterized by intense bacterial competition and protist predation.