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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 2;5(12):e14184. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014184.

The repeatability of adaptive radiation during long-term experimental evolution of Escherichia coli in a multiple nutrient environment.

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Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, United States of America.


Adaptive radiations occur when a species diversifies into different ecological specialists due to competition for resources and trade-offs associated with the specialization. The evolutionary outcome of an instance of adaptive radiation cannot generally be predicted because chance (stochastic events) and necessity (deterministic events) contribute to the evolution of diversity. With increasing contributions of chance, the degree of parallelism among different instances of adaptive radiations and the predictability of an outcome will decrease. To assess the relative contributions of chance and necessity during adaptive radiation, we performed a selection experiment by evolving twelve independent microcosms of Escherichia coli for 1000 generations in an environment that contained two distinct resources. Specialization to either of these resources involves strong trade-offs in the ability to use the other resource. After selection, we measured three phenotypic traits: 1) fitness, 2) mean colony size, and 3) colony size diversity. We used fitness relative to the ancestor as a measure of adaptation to the selective environment; changes in colony size as a measure of the evolution of new resource specialists because colony size has been shown to correlate with resource specialization; and colony size diversity as a measure of the evolved ecological diversity. Resource competition led to the rapid evolution of phenotypic diversity within microcosms. Measurements of fitness, colony size, and colony size diversity within and among microcosms showed that the repeatability of adaptive radiation was high, despite the evolution of genetic variation within microcosms. Consistent with the observation of parallel evolution, we show that the relative contributions of chance are far smaller and less important than effects due to adaptation for the traits investigated. The two-resource environment imposed similar selection pressures in independent populations and promoted parallel phenotypic adaptive radiations in all independently evolved microcosms.

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