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Mol Ecol. 2020 Jan;29(1):138-148. doi: 10.1111/mec.15307. Epub 2019 Dec 5.

Negative frequency-dependent selection maintains coexisting genotypes during fluctuating selection.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


Natural environments are rarely static; rather selection can fluctuate on timescales ranging from hours to centuries. However, it is unclear how adaptation to fluctuating environments differs from adaptation to constant environments at the genetic level. For bacteria, one key axis of environmental variation is selection for planktonic or biofilm modes of growth. We conducted an evolution experiment with Burkholderia cenocepacia, comparing the evolutionary dynamics of populations evolving under constant selection for either biofilm formation or planktonic growth with populations in which selection fluctuated between the two environments on a weekly basis. Populations evolved in the fluctuating environment shared many of the same genetic targets of selection as those evolved in constant biofilm selection, but were genetically distinct from the constant planktonic populations. In the fluctuating environment, mutations in the biofilm-regulating genes wspA and rpfR rose to high frequency in all replicate populations. A mutation in wspA first rose rapidly and nearly fixed during the initial biofilm phase but was subsequently displaced by a collection of rpfR mutants upon the shift to the planktonic phase. The wspA and rpfR genotypes coexisted via negative frequency-dependent selection around an equilibrium frequency that shifted between the environments. The maintenance of coexisting genotypes in the fluctuating environment was unexpected. Under temporally fluctuating environments, coexistence of two genotypes is only predicted under a narrow range of conditions, but the frequency-dependent interactions we observed provide a mechanism that can increase the likelihood of coexistence in fluctuating environments.


adaptation; bacteria; experimental evolution; population ecology

[Available on 2021-01-01]

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