Community monopolization: local adaptation enhances priority effects in an evolving metacommunity

Mark C. Urban, Luc De Meester


The diversity and composition of biological communities might often depend on colonization history because early colonists can exclude future colonists through a priority effect. These priority effects, which have been observed across a wide variety of ecosystems, often arise because early colonists have sufficient time to use available resources efficiently and subsequently withhold them from invaders. Here, we explore the extent to which rapid local adaptive evolution contributes to the pervasiveness of these priority effects. Using an individual-based simulation, we show that early colonization allows the descendants of colonists to adapt to novel conditions and reduce the establishment success of an initially ecologically equivalent competing species. Our model predicts that slight differences in colonization timing and adaptive capacity between species can substantially alter the dynamics and diversity of communities. We also show that priority effects and gene flow can generate a novel mechanism for the expansion and retraction of species distributions in a metacommunity. Our results suggest that local adaptation combined with stochastic colonization events can obscure direct relationships between species distributions and environmental gradients. Given the increasing recognition of rapid, microgeographic evolution in natural populations, we expect that evolutionary priority effects could affect the structure and dynamics of many natural metacommunities.


    • Received July 31, 2009.
    • Accepted August 18, 2009.
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