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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 19;368(1610):20120084. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0084.

Evolutionary and plastic rescue in multitrophic model communities.

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  • 1Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Docteur-Penfield, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Under changing environmental conditions, intraspecific variation can potentially rescue populations from extinction. There are two principal sources of variation that may ultimately lead to population rescue: genetic diversity and phenotypic plasticity. We compared the potential for evolutionary rescue (through genetic diversity) and plastic rescue (through phenotypic plasticity) by analysing their differential ability to produce dynamical stability and persistence in model food webs. We also evaluated how rescue is affected by the trophic location of variation. We tested the following hypotheses: (i) plastic communities are more likely to exhibit stability and persistence than communities in which genetic diversity provides the same range of traits. (ii) Variation at the lowest trophic level promotes stability and persistence more than variation at higher levels. (iii) Communities with variation at two levels have greater probabilities of stability and persistence than communities with variation at only one level. We found that (i) plasticity promotes stability and persistence more than genetic diversity; (ii) variation at the second highest trophic level promotes stability and persistence more than variation at the autotroph level; and (iii) more than variation at two trophic levels. Our study shows that proper evaluation of the rescue potential of intraspecific variation critically depends on its origin and trophic location.

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