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Evolution. 2011 Aug;65(8):2345-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01283.x. Epub 2011 Apr 4.

Spatial environmental variation can select for evolvability.

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Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

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Previous studies have shown that temporally fluctuating environments can create indirect selection for modifiers of evolvability. Here, we use a simple computational model to investigate whether spatially varying environments (multiple demes with limited migration among them, and a different, static selective optimum in each) can also create indirect selection for increased evolvability. The answer is surprisingly complicated. Spatial variation in the environment can sharply reduce the survival rate of migrants, because migrants may be maladapted to their new deme, relative to incumbents. The incumbent advantage can be removed by occasional extinctions in single demes. After all incumbents in a particular deme die, incoming migrants from other demes will, on average, be similarly maladapted to the new environment. This sets off a race to adapt rapidly. Over many extinction events, and the subsequent invasions by maladapted immigrants into a new environment, indirect selection for the ability to adapt rapidly, also known as high evolvability, may result.

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