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Adaptation and competition in deteriorating environments


Limberger, Romana; Fussmann, Gregor (2021), Adaptation and competition in deteriorating environments, Dryad, Dataset,


Evolution might rescue populations from extinction in changing environments. Using experimental evolution with microalgae, we investigated if competition influences adaptation to an abiotic stressor, and vice versa, if adaptation to abiotic change influences competition. In a first set of experiments, we propagated monocultures of five species with and without increasing salt stress for ~180 generations. When assayed in monoculture, two of the five species showed signatures of adaptation, that is, lines with a history of salt stress had higher population growth rates at high salt than lines without prior exposure to salt. When assayed in mixtures of species, however, only one of these two species had increased population size at high salt, indicating that competition can alter how adaptation to abiotic change influences population dynamics. In a second experiment, we cultivated two species in monocultures and in pairs, with and without increasing salt. While we found no effect of competition on adaptation to salt, our experiment revealed that evolutionary responses to salt can influence competition. Specifically, one of the two species had reduced competitive ability in the no-salt environment after long-term exposure to salt stress. Collectively, our results highlight the complex interplay of adaptation to abiotic change and competitive interactions.