Virtual Issue: Evolutionary Ecology


The fundamental aim of evolutionary ecology is to understand how biological diversity is generated and maintained across all levels of biological organisation. To do so entails understanding the way that ecological processes influence the course of evolution: that is, how evolutionary forces are generated, and modulated, by ecological communities and processes. Equally, it involves understanding how evolutionary history shapes and guides the ecological processes that operate in natural systems. Journal of Animal Ecology has a long history of publishing papers that have explored the interaction of these two fields, from understanding macroecological patterns to dissections of the causes of genetic variation within populations. This virtual issue, compiled to coincide with the 2016 Evolution meeting in Austin, Texas, reflects some of the most recent work in this area published in Journal of Animal Ecology.

A key process in understanding patterns of diversity is dispersal. The act of dispersal mixes populations, moves animals, genes, and associated properties through space, and ultimately is a key determinant of colonisation and extinction rates in meta-populations. Understanding dispersal requires both the development of theory to predict how dispersal should evolve, as well as empirical tests of the forces acting on dispersal behaviour. Shaw & Kokko (2014) develop theoretical models to ask how dispersal, on the one hand, and mate-searching, on the other, interact with each other. They show that this interaction depends crucially on the timing of mating with respect to dispersal. Berger-Tal et al. (2016) use experimental studies of social spiders to show that dispersal decisions from natal colonies can be predicted by increased competition, or declining resource availability. Jacob et al. (2015) show - using microcosm experiments with ciliates - how the information carried by immigrants can influence the dispersal decisions in those populations into which immigrants move. Finally, dispersal may have consequences not only for the individuals dispersing, but also for their parasites, and other associated organisms. Knowles et al. (2014) use a long-term bird-malaria study to ask how natal dispersal of hosts interacts with malaria parasitism in wild bird populations, and show that selection on dispersal in the host depends crucially on the parasite distribution in the environment.

A striking aspect of diversity, that has intrigued ecologists since the 19th century, concerns the adaptive nature of colour polymorphisms. Nokelainen et al. (2014) investigate selection on the warning colour polymorphism of the wood tiger moth, and show that the presence of different communities of predatory bird species changes which colour is selected. Gordon et al. (2015) then tested how mating preferences act to maintain the same system and showed that despite positive frequency-dependent mating advantages for male colour, migration between patches with different predation preferences could lead to the maintenance of stable polymorphisms. Sumasgutner et al. (2016) explore the forces acting on another polymorphism: coloration in the black sparrowhawk, breeding in South Africa. They show that the fitness of breeding attempts of this species depend both on the diversity of morphs in the parents (pairs comprising different morphs having higher success) as well as interactions between climatic conditions and parental morph. Finally, Mérot et al. (2016) explore Mullerian mimicry in the textbook Heliconius group, asking what happens to the degree of mimicry as the composition of the butterfly community changes over space. They show that mimics track the local changes in community composition. Taken together, these papers emphasise the way that understanding such classic evolutionary examples as colour polymorphism requires an understanding of ecological variation in space.

The raw material of evolution is variation in fitness, and it is the covariance between fitness and phenotypic traits that defines natural selection. Work on the evolutionary ecology of fitness variation in Journal of Animal Ecology has followed many paths over the years. A growing recent theme has been to understand the way that fitness, and fitness components, change with age, and as long-term population studies mature, such variation has been easier to quantify. Zhang et al. (2015) used a long-term common tern population study to determine which process drives age-related changes in life history traits, showing that in the majority of cases, improvement within individuals is key. Kervinen et al. (2016) used similar data for displaying male black grouse to show that sexual selection on male display traits becomes significantly stronger as males grow older. Finally, while natural selection is relatively easy to quantify, it is much harder to assign causes to variation in natural selection. Bouwhuis et al. (2015) used hierarchical partitioning of trait variation to identify the key ecological processes that appear to drive variation in selection in fledging mass in juvenile great tits, showing that the force of selection on this trait is actually weaker than expected, largely resulting from correlated ecological effects.

Ben Sheldon, Senior Editor
Journal of Animal Ecology

Mate finding, Allee effects and selection for sex-biased dispersal
Allison K. Shaw and Hanna Kokko

Good reasons to leave home: proximate dispersal cues in a social spider
Reut Berger-Tal, Na'ama Berner-Aharo1, Shlomi Aharon, Cristina Tuni and Yael Lubin

Social information from immigrants: multiple immigrant-based sources of information for dispersal decisions in a ciliate
Staffan Jacob, Alexis S. Chaine, Nicolas Schtickzelle, Michèle Huet and Jean Clobert

Dispersal in a patchy landscape reveals contrasting determinants of infection in a wild avian malaria system
Sarah C. L. Knowles, Matthew J. Wood, Ricardo Alves and Ben C. Sheldon

Changes in predator community structure shifts the efficacy of two warning signals in Arctiid moths
Ossi Nokelainen, Janne Valkonen, Carita Lindstedt and Johanna Mappes

Colour polymorphism torn apart by opposing positive frequency-dependent selection, yet maintained in space
Swanne P. Gordon, Hanna Kokko, Bibiana Rojas, Ossi Nokelainen and Johanna Mappes

Family morph matters: factors determining survival and recruitment in a long-lived polymorphic raptor
Petra Sumasgutner, Gareth J. Tate, Ann Koeslag and Arjun Amar

Refining mimicry: phenotypic variation tracks the local optimum
Claire Mérot, Yann Le Poul, Marc Théry and Mathieu Joron

Age-dependent trait variation: the relative contribution of within-individual change, selective appearance and disappearance in a long-lived seabird
He Zhang, Oscar Vedder, Peter H. Becker and Sandra Bouwhuis

Simultaneous age-dependent and age-independent sexual selection in the lekking black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix)
Matti Kervinen, Christophe Lebigre and Carl D. Soulsbury

Ecological causes of multilevel covariance between size and first-year survival in a wild bird population
Sandra Bouwhuis, Oscar Vedder, Colin J. Garroway and Ben C. Sheldon

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