The Elements of Evolution (36) Dispersal & Adaptation

Dispersal & Adaptation

Dispersal and local adaptation are major drivers of population structure. In general, their respective roles are not independent. The two may often be at odds with one another evolutionarily, each one exhibiting negative feedback on the evolution of the other. ~ American evolutionary biologist Simon Levin et al

Scattering or adapting are the evolutionary strategies. The two are not mutually exclusive. Context matters.

A main factor influencing the evolution of dispersal is the spread of risk in unpredictable environments. ~ Finnish evolutionary biologist Éva Kisdi

In a homogeneous habitat, such as a desert, dispersal typically occurs, as offspring are likely to encounter a similar environment wherever they go. Conversely, a highly diverse habitat favors specialization, as dispersal offers a lower probability of finding an already-suitable habitat; mountains are exemplary.

A highly dispersing generalist species will continue to scatter even as environmental heterogeneity increases, but only to a point. At a certain threshold, populations shift to specialist lineages, each adapted to a specific habitat. This shift can be highly discontinuous.

Once local adaptation has taken place, dispersal is disadvantageous because individuals move away from a habitat that they are adapted to and land in other habitats where they are selectively inferior. ~ Éva Kisdi

Once a generalist population starts to specialize, the resulting drop in dispersal induces further specialization. This positive feedback loop between reduced dispersal and local adaptation triggers a dramatic shift in evolution strategy: forgoing the possibility of returning to generalization.

There is ample empirical evidence that habitat specialization promotes adaptive diversification in, for example, bacteria, plants, insects, and vertebrates. ~ Éva Kisdi

Evolution appears to practice localized risk minimization.

Several locally evolutionarily stable attractors may exist simultaneously, but generally, only one of them is a global evolutionarily stable strategy. ~ Éva Kisdi