Evolution of size–dependent flowering in a variable environment: construction and analysis of a stochastic integral projection model

Dylan Z. Childs, Mark Rees, Karen E. Rose, Peter J. Grubb, Stephen P. Ellner

Abstract

Understanding why individuals delay reproduction is a classic problem in evolutionary biology. In plants, the study of reproductive delays is complicated because growth and survival can be size and age dependent, individuals of the same size can grow by different amounts and there is temporal variation in the environment. We extend the recently developed integral projection approach to include size– and age–dependent demography and temporal variation. The technique is then applied to a long–term individually structured dataset for Carlina vulgaris, a monocarpic thistle. The parameterized model has excellent descriptive properties in terms of both the population size and the distributions of sizes within each age class. In Carlina, the probability of flowering depends on both plant size and age. We use the parameterized model to predict this relationship, using the evolutionarily stable strategy approach. Considering each year separately, we show that both the direction and the magnitude of selection on the flowering strategy vary from year to year. Provided the flowering strategy is constrained, so it cannot be a step function, the model accurately predicts the average size at flowering. Elasticity analysis is used to partition the size– and age–specific contributions to the stochastic growth rate, λs. We use λs to construct fitness landscapes and show how different forms of stochasticity influence its topography. We prove the existence of a unique stochastic growth rate, λs, which is independent of the initial population vector, and show that Tuljapurkar's perturbation analysis for log(λs) can be used to calculate elasticities.