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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 May 22;270(1519):1015-22.

Evolution as a critical component of plankton dynamics.

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Institut für Biochemie und Biologie, Universität Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 2, D-14469 Potsdam, Germany.


Microevolution is typically ignored as a factor directly affecting ongoing population dynamics. We show here that density-dependent natural selection has a direct and measurable effect on a planktonic predator-prey interaction. We kept populations of Brachionus calyciflorus, a monogonont rotifer that exhibits cyclical parthenogenesis, in continuous flow-through cultures (chemostats) for more than 900 days. Initially, females frequently produced male offspring, especially at high population densities. We observed rapid evolution, however, towards low propensity to reproduce sexually, and by 750 days, reproduction had become entirely asexual. There was strong selection favouring asexual reproduction because, under the turbulent chemostat regime, males were unable to mate with females, produced no offspring, and so had zero fitness. In replicated chemostat experiments we found that this evolutionary process directly influenced the population dynamics. We observed very specific but reproducible plankton dynamics which are explained well by a mathematical model that explicitly includes evolution. This model accounts for both asexual and sexual reproduction and treats the propensity to reproduce sexually as a quantitative trait under selection. We suggest that a similar amalgam of ecological and evolutionary mechanisms may drive the dynamics of rapidly reproducing organisms in the wild.

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