Ecology shapes evolution, but reverse also holds true

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Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): A new research has suggested that not only ecology shapes evolution, but the reverse also holds true.

While it is clear to ecologists that an ecosystem shapes the evolution of animals living in it, population biology experts such as Joseph Travis of The Florida State University believe the reverse can also be true, making the relationship between evolution and ecology a model of reciprocity.

The evidence comes from an experiment in evolution that Travis designed with David N. Reznick of the University of California-Riverside and their fellow members of an interdisciplinary research team.

Findings from the study expand the body of knowledge about the interactions between evolution and ecology by demonstrating that evolutionary adaptations can also act as triggers for a cascade of in-tandem changes to both ecosystem and animal.

In the experiment, led by Ronald D. Bassar of UC-Riverside, the team used artificial streams-filled with the same spring water and insect larvae found in Trinidad's natural habitats -- to examine whether genetically distinct guppies from upstream or downstream had different effects on ecosystem processes.

They compared the two types of guppies because earlier work showed that the little freshwater fish could evolve rapidly from a downstream "type" to an upstream "type."

The team found dramatic differences between the effects of each type of guppy on the nutrient cycles and overall productivity of the stream ecosystems.

Travis said the results, which emerged very rapidly during the experiment, predict that the team's larger experiment -- introducing downstream guppies to upstream habitats-will show that evolutionary change also will drive substantial changes in the ecosystem at the same time.

"Within just four weeks, the two types of guppies drove the parameters of the artificial streams in very different directions," said Travis.

According to Travis, it is essential that scientists better understand the evolution-ecology feedback loop and the surprising speed with which an ecosystem can be altered by adaptations in a species that populates it, as so many animals and plants are evolving in response to ecosystem changes caused by humans. (ANI)

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