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Evolution in interacting species alters predator life history traits, behavior and morphology in experimental microbial communities


Cairns, Johannes et al. (2020), Evolution in interacting species alters predator life history traits, behavior and morphology in experimental microbial communities, Dryad, Dataset,


Predator-prey interactions are key for the dynamics of many ecosystems. An increasing body of evidence suggests that rapid evolution and co-evolution can alter these interactions, with important ecological implications, by acting on traits determining fitness, including reproduction, anti-predatory defense and foraging efficiency. However, most studies to date have focused only on evolution in the prey species, and the predator traits in (co-)evolving systems remain poorly understood. Here we investigated changes in predator traits after ~600 generations in a predator-prey (ciliate-bacteria) evolutionary experiment. Predators independently evolved on seven different prey species, allowing generalization of the predator’s evolutionary response. We used highly resolved automated image analysis to quantify changes in predator life history, morphology and behavior. Consistent with previous studies, we found that prey evolution impaired growth of the predator, although the effect depended on the prey species. In contrast, predator evolution did not cause a clear increase in predator growth when feeding on ancestral prey. However, predator evolution affected morphology and behavior, increasing size, speed and directionality of movement, which have all been linked to higher prey search efficiency. These results show that in (co-)evolving systems, predator adaptation can occur in traits relevant to foraging efficiency without translating into an increased ability of the predator to grow on the ancestral prey type.


Protist population densities, morphological traits and movement traits have been collected through video-analysis of samples filmed under a Leica M165FC stereomicroscope with circular lighting and mounted Hamamatsu Orca Flash 4.0 camera. The videos were analysed using the BEMOVI R-package.

Bacterial densities were measured using Flow cytometry using a BD AccuriTM C6 flow cytometer, as well as though optical density measurements at 600 nm using a SpectroMax 190 plate reader.

For details on the protocols for protist and bacterial measurements, see associated protocol.


Academy of Finland, Award: 106993

University Zürich URPP evolution in action

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Award: PP00P3_179089

Jenny ja Antti Wihurin Rahasto

Jenny ja Antti Wihurin Rahasto, Award: 00190040