Evolution alters species interactions

Evolution can occur on very short time scales and when it does it has the potential to affect the outcome of species interactions. This then changes future selection pressure on the population. We are interested in whether or not eco-evo feedbacks like this can occur between predator and prey, or between competitors, but also under what conditions this is most likely to occur.

Evolution was traditionally thought to occur on much longer time scales than ecological processes, but an increasing body of work demonstrates that evolution can occur quite rapidly. Sometimes strong selection pressure can cause populations to evolve significantly different traits in just a few generations. This is particularly true as organisms begin to respond to anthropogenic changes (range shifts in response to climate change, or novel species interactions during invasion, or altered selection environments). For organisms with very short generation times, evolution may also occur on the order of days or weeks, even if selection pressure is not particularly strong. Regardless of the mechanism that allows for rapid evolution, evolution that occurs on ecological time scales creates a greater chance for feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes.

To date, we have examined how the evolution of protozoa prey in pitcher plant communities alters the interaction with their mosquito larval predators. We have also used a modeling approach to examine how eco-evo feedbacks can occur between suites of competitors that converge or diverge in their resource use. We are currently broadening both our experimental and our theoretical approach to examine the conditions under which these feedbacks are most likely to occur.