Rapid Evolution of a Consumer Stoichiometric Trait Destabilizes Consumer–producer Dynamics

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Recent studies have shown that adaptive evolution can be rapid enough to affect contemporary ecological dynamics in nature (i.e. ‘rapid evolution’). These studies tend to focus on trait functions relating to interspecific interactions; however, the importance of rapid evolution of stoichiometric traits has been relatively overlooked. Various traits can affect the balance of elements (carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) of organisms, and rapid evolution of such stoichiometric traits will not only alter population and community dynamics but also influence ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling. Multiple environmental changes may exert a selection pressure leading to adaptation of stoichiometrically important traits, such as an organism's growth rate. In this paper, we use theoretical approaches to explore the connections between rapid evolution and ecological stoichiometry at both the population and ecosystem level. First, we incorporate rapid evolution into an ecological stoichiometry model to investigate the effects of rapid evolution of a consumer's stoichiometric phosphorus:carbon ratio on consumer–producer population dynamics. We took two complementary approaches, an asexual clonal genotype model and a quantitative genetic model. Next, we extended these models to explicitly track nutrients in order to evaluate the effect of rapid evolution at the ecosystem level. Our model results indicate rapid evolution of the consumer stoichiometric trait can cause complex dynamics where rapid evolution destabilizes population dynamics and rescues the consumer population from extinction (evolutionary rescue). The model results also show that rapid evolution may influence the level of nutrients available in the environment and the flux of nutrients across trophic levels. Our study represents an important step for theoretical integration of rapid evolution and ecological stoichiometry.



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