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Ecol Lett. 2008 Mar;11(3):199-207. Epub 2007 Nov 21.

Evolution in ecological field experiments: implications for effect size.

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Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Rapid evolution in response to strong selection, much of which is human-induced, has been indisputably documented. In this perspective, we suggest that adaptation may influence the effect size of treatments in ecological field experiments and alter our predictions of future dynamics in ecological systems. Field experiments often impose very strong and consistent selection over multiple generations. Focal populations may adapt to these treatments and, in the process, increase or decrease the magnitude of the treatment effect through time. We argue that how effect size changes through time will depend on the evolutionary history of the experimental population, the type of experimental manipulation, and the traits involved in adaptive responses. While no field study has conclusively demonstrated evolution in response to treatments with concomitant changes in ecological effect size, we present several examples that provide strong circumstantial evidence that such effects occur. We conclude with a consideration of the differences between plastic and genetic responses to treatments and discuss future research directions linking adaptation to ecological effect size.

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