Biological adaptation under fluctuating selection

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Ming LiuSheng-Feng Shen


Bet-hedging-an evolutionary strategy that reduces fitness variance at the expense of lower mean fitness-is the primary explanation for most forms of biological adaptation to environmental unpredictability. However, most applications of bet-hedging theory to biological problems have largely made unrealistic demographic assumptions, such as non-overlapping generations and fixed population sizes. Consequently, the generality and applicability of bet-hedging theory to real world phenomena remains unclear. Here we use continuous-time, stochastic Lotka-Volterra models to relax overly restrictive demographic assumptions and explore a suite of biological adaptations to fluctuating environments. We discover a novel 'rising-tide strategy' that-unlike the bet-hedging strategy-generates both a higher mean and variance in fitness. The positive fitness effects of the rising-tide strategy's specialization to good years can overcome any negative effects of higher fitness variance in unpredictable environments. Moreover, we show not only that the rising-tide strategy will be selected for over a much broader range of environmental conditions than the bet-hedging strategy, but also under more realistic demographic circumstances. Ultimately, our m...Continue Reading

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