Skip to main content

Asymmetric evolvability leads to specialization without trade-offs

Cite this dataset

Draghi, Jeremy (2021). Asymmetric evolvability leads to specialization without trade-offs [Dataset]. Dryad.


Many organisms are specialized, and these narrow niches are often explained with trade-offs—inability for one organism to express maximal performance in two or more environments. However, evidence is lacking that trade-offs are sufficient to explain specialists. Several lines of theoretical inquiry suggest that populations can specialize without explicit trade-offs, as a result of relaxed selection in generalists for their performance in rare environments. Here I synthesize and extend these approaches, showing that emergent asymmetries in evolvability can push a population toward specialization in the absence of trade-offs and in the presence of substantial ecological costs of specialism. Simulations are used to demonstrate how adaptation to a more common environment interferes with adaptation to a less common but otherwise equal alternative environment, and that this interference is greatly exacerbated at low recombination rates. This adaptive process of specialization can effectively trap populations in a suboptimal niche. These modeling results predict that transient differences in evolvability across traits during a single episode of adaptation could have long-term consequences for a population’s niche.


All data analyzed in the paper result from simulations. Both the code for producing these results and analyzing them are included. 

Usage notes

Please see the included readme file for instructions.