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Am Nat. 2006 Feb;167(2):E39-51. Epub 2005 Dec 12.

Evolutionary feedback mediated through population density, illustrated with viruses in chemostats.

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Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


A cornerstone of evolutionary ecology is that population density affects adaptation: r and K selection is the obvious example. The reverse is also appreciated: adaptation impacts population density. Yet, empirically demonstrating a direct connection between population density and adaptation is challenging. Here, we address both evolution and ecology of population density in models of viral (bacteriophage) chemostats. Chemostats supply nutrients for host cell growth, and the hosts are prey for viral reproduction. Two different chemostat designs have profoundly different consequences for viral evolution. If host and virus are confined to the same chamber, as in a predator-prey system, viral regulation of hosts feeds back to maintain low viral density (measured as infections per cell). Viral adaptation impacts host density but has a small effect on equilibrium viral density. More interesting are chemostats that supply the viral population with hosts from a virus-free refuge. Here, a type of evolutionary succession operates: adaptation at low viral density leads to higher density, but high density then favors competitive ability. Experiments support these models with both phenotypic and molecular data. Parallels to these designs exist in many natural systems, so these experimental systems may yield insights to the evolution and regulation of natural populations.

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