Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics in Nature and the Lab

Coordinators: Michael Desai, Anthony Long, Paul Rainey, and Christian Schlötterer

The diversity of life is shaped by the action of evolutionary forces such as mutation, recombination, and natural selection. While each of these forces is well understood in isolation, it is difficult to predict how they work in combination to shape the evolution of populations and communities. The ecological richness of natural habitats, which typically involve numerous interacting species, present further obstacles to detailed investigations of their evolutionary dynamics. Similar complications are present even in simple laboratory systems, where initially clonal populations often quickly diversify. Ecological feedback is thus an essential element of evolutionary dynamics in both natural and laboratory settings, while interactions within complex communities are themselves substrates of evolutionary change.

Technological advances have made the field ripe for exploring new ways to reconstitute eco-evolutionary dynamics in laboratory models, and for connecting the insights gained from the lab to observations of diversity in natural communities. Most strikingly, inexpensive genome sequencing now makes it possible to characterize evolutionary dynamics and patterns of diversity in unprecedented detail. This has in turn led to new theoretical challenges as we attempt to interpret sequence data in the context of population genetics. The purpose of this program is to bring together perspectives from different disciplines to forge a new understanding of eco-evolutionary dynamics in natural and laboratory communities.

Key questions include:

  • How does the interplay between organismic changes and ecological interactions drive evolution of diversity? And how does this diversity scale with the physical and biological complexities of the environment?
  • How does eco-evolutionary dynamics lead to stable versus unstable and chaotic communities? How repeatable are the dynamics, and predictable the stable patterns, of community assembly across replicate systems?
  • How does genetic exchange (e.g. horizontal transmission and migration) shape the genomic and ecological structure of a community? And what are the roles of selection acting on genes, organisms, and communities? 
  • How does evolution in sexual organisms (such as Drosophila and C. elegans) fueled by standing genetic variation differ from adaptation based on new mutations in largely asexual populations of microbes and viruses?

A closely linked Santa Barbara Advanced School of Quantitative Biology Summer Course will take place from July 24-August 18, 2017.