“Eco-evolutionary dynamics in metacommunities: ecological inheritance, helping within- and harming between-species”

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Charles Mullon and Laurent Lehmann (Dec 2018)

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Understanding selection on intra- and inter-specific interactions that take place in dispersal-limited communities is a challenge for ecology and evolutionary biology. The problem is that local demographic stochasticity generates eco-evolutionary dynamics that are generally too complicated to make tractable analytical investigations. Here, we circumvent this problem by approximating the selection gradient on a quantitative trait that influences local community dynamics, assuming that such dynamics are deterministic with a stable fixed point. We nonetheless incorporate unavoidable kin selection effects arising from demographic stochasticity. Our approximation reveals that selection depends on how an individual expressing a trait-change influences: (1) its own fitness and the fitness of its current relatives; and (2) the fitness of its downstream relatives through modifications of local ecological conditions (i.e., through ecological inheritance). Mathematically, the effects of ecological inheritance on selection are captured by dispersal-limited versions of press-perturbations of community ecology. We use our approximation to investigate the evolution of helping within- and harming between-species when these behaviours influence demography. We find that altruistic helping evolves more readily when intra-specific competition is for material resources rather than for space because in this case, the costs of kin competition tend to paid by downstream relatives. Similarly, altruistic harming between species evolves when it alleviates downstream relatives from inter-specific competition. Beyond these examples, our approximation can help better understand the influence of ecological inheritance on a variety of eco-evolutionary dynamics in metacommunities, from consumer-resource and predator-prey coevolution to selection on mating systems with demographic feedbacks.