The phenomenology of niche evolution via quantitative traits in a ‘black-hole’ sink

R. D. Holt, R. Gomulkiewicz, M. Barfield

Abstract

Previous studies of adaptive evolution in sink habitats (in which isolated populations of a species cannot persist deterministically) have highlighted the importance of demographic constraints in slowing such evolution, and of immigration in facilitating adaptation. These studies have relied upon either single–locus models or deterministic quantitative genetic formulations. We use individual–based simulations to examine adaptive evolution in a ‘black–hole’ sink environment where fitness is governed by a polygenic character. The simulations track both the number of individuals and their multi–locus genotypes, and incorporate, in a natural manner, both demographic and genetic stochastic processes. In agreement with previous studies, our findings reveal the central parts played by demographic constraints and immigration in adaptation within a sink (adaptation is more difficult in environments with low absolute fitness, and higher immigration can accelerate adaptation). A novel finding is that there is a ‘punctuational’ pattern in adaptive evolution in sink environments. Populations typically stay maladapted for a long time, and then rapidly shift into a relatively adapted state, in which persistence no longer depends upon recurrent immigration.