Towards a mechanistic foundation of evolutionary theory
Most evolutionary thinking is based on the notion of fitness and related ideas such as fitness landscapes and evolutionary optima. Nevertheless, it is often unclear what fitness actually is, and its meaning often depends on the context. Here we argue that fitness should not be a basal ingredient in verbal or mathematical descriptions of evolution. Instead, we propose that evolutionary birth-death processes, in which individuals give birth and die at ever-changing rates, should be the basis of evolutionary theory, because such processes capture the fundamental events that generate evolutionary dynamics. In evolutionary birth-death processes, fitness is at best a derived quantity, and owing to the potential complexity of such processes, there is no guarantee that there is a simple scalar, such as fitness, that would describe long-term evolutionary outcomes. We discuss how evolutionary birth-death processes can provide useful perspectives on a number of central issues in evolution.
Article and author information
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (219930)
- Michael Doebeli
Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (1151524)
- Yaroslav Ispolatov
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
- Michael Doebeli
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
- Wenying Shou, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, United States
- Received: December 3, 2016
- Accepted: February 13, 2017
- Accepted Manuscript published: February 15, 2017 (version 1)
- Version of Record published: March 2, 2017 (version 2)
- Version of Record updated: March 3, 2017 (version 3)
© 2017, Doebeli et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
- Page views
Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.
Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)
Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)
Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)
- Evolutionary Biology
Most phytophagous insect species exhibit a limited diet breadth and specialize on a few or a single host plant. In contrast, some species display a remarkably large diet breadth, with host plants spanning several families and many species. It is unclear, however, whether this phylogenetic generalism is supported by a generic metabolic use of common host chemical compounds (‘metabolic generalism’) or alternatively by distinct uses of diet-specific compounds (‘multi-host metabolic specialism’)? Here, we simultaneously investigated the metabolomes of fruit diets and of individuals of a generalist phytophagous species, Drosophila suzukii, that developed on them. The direct comparison of metabolomes of diets and consumers enabled us to disentangle the metabolic fate of common and rarer dietary compounds. We showed that the consumption of biochemically dissimilar diets resulted in a canalized, generic response from generalist individuals, consistent with the metabolic generalism hypothesis. We also showed that many diet-specific metabolites, such as those related to the particular color, odor, or taste of diets, were not metabolized, and rather accumulated in consumer individuals, even when probably detrimental to fitness. As a result, while individuals were mostly similar across diets, the detection of their particular diet was straightforward. Our study thus supports the view that dietary generalism may emerge from a passive, opportunistic use of various resources, contrary to more widespread views of an active role of adaptation in this process. Such a passive stance towards dietary chemicals, probably costly in the short term, might favor the later evolution of new diet specializations.
- Evolutionary Biology
Evolutionary theory suggests that individuals should express costly traits at a magnitude that optimizes the trait bearer’s cost-benefit difference. Trait expression varies across a species because costs and benefits vary among individuals. For example, if large individuals pay lower costs than small individuals, then larger individuals should reach optimal cost-benefit differences at greater trait magnitudes. Using the cavitation-shooting weapons found in the big claws of male and female snapping shrimp, we test whether size- and sex-dependent expenditures explain scaling and sex differences in weapon size. We found that males and females from three snapping shrimp species (Alpheus heterochaelis, Alpheus angulosus, and Alpheus estuariensis) show patterns consistent with tradeoffs between weapon and abdomen size. For male A. heterochaelis, the species for which we had the greatest statistical power, smaller individuals showed steeper tradeoffs. Our extensive dataset in A. heterochaelis also included data about pairing, breeding season, and egg clutch size. Therefore, we could test for reproductive tradeoffs and benefits in this species. Female A. heterochaelis exhibited tradeoffs between weapon size and egg count, average egg volume, and total egg mass volume. For average egg volume, smaller females exhibited steeper tradeoffs. Furthermore, in males but not females, large weapons were positively correlated with the probability of being paired and the relative size of their pair mates. In conclusion, we identified size-dependent tradeoffs that could underlie reliable scaling of costly traits. Furthermore, weapons are especially beneficial to males and burdensome to females, which could explain why males have larger weapons than females.