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A test of frequency dependent selection in the evolution of a generalist phenotype


Blain, Stephanie; Chavarie, Louise; Kinney, Mackenzie; Schluter, Dolph (2022), A test of frequency dependent selection in the evolution of a generalist phenotype, Dryad, Dataset,


A solitary population of consumers frequently evolves to the middle of a resource gradient and an intermediate mean phenotype compared to a sympatric pair of competing species that diverge to either side via character displacement. The forces governing the distribution of phenotypes in these allopatric populations, however, are little investigated. Theory predicts that the intermediate mean phenotype of the generalist should be maintained by negative frequency dependent selection, whereby alternate extreme phenotypes are favored because they experience reduced competition for resources when rare. However, the theory makes assumptions that are not always met, and alternative explanations for an intermediate phenotype are possible. We provide a test of this prediction in a mesocosm experiment using threespine stickleback that are ecologically and phenotypically intermediate between the more specialized stickleback species that occur in pairs. We manipulated the frequency distribution of phenotypes in two treatments and then measured effects on a focal intermediate population. We found a slight frequency-dependent effect on survival in the predicted direction but not on individual growth rates. This result suggests that frequency dependent selection might be a relatively weak force across the range of phenotypes within an intermediate population and we suggest several general reasons why this might be so. We propose that allopatric populations might often be maintained at an intermediate phenotype instead by stabilizing or fluctuating directional selection.