Evolutionary ecology

Evolutionary ecology lies at the intersection of ecology and evolutionary biology. It approaches the study of ecology in a way that explicitly considers the evolutionary histories of species and the interactions between them. Conversely, it can be seen as an approach to the study of evolution that incorporates an understanding of the interactions between the species under consideration. The main subfields of evolutionary ecology are life history evolution, sociobiology (the evolution of social behavior), the evolution of inter specific relations (cooperation, predator–prey interactions, parasitism, mutualism) and the evolution of biodiversity and of communities.

Evolutionary ecology mostly considers two things: how interactions (both among species and between species and their physical environment) shape species through selection and adaptation, and the consequences of the resulting evolutionary change.

Tree of life
A phylogenetic tree of living things

Evolutionary models

A large part of evolutionary ecology is about utilising models and finding empirical data as proof.[1] Examples include the Lack clutch size model devised by David Lack and his study of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands. Lack's study of Darwin's finches was important in analyzing the role of different ecological factors in speciation. Lack suggested that differences in species were adaptive and produced by natural selection, based on the assertion by G.F. Gause that two species cannot occupy the same niche.[2]

Richard Levins introduced his model of the specialization of species in 1968, which investigated how habitat specialization evolved within heterogeneous environments using the fitness sets an organism or species possesses. This model developed the concept of spatial scales in specific environments, defining fine-grained spatial scales and coarse-grained spatial scales.[3] The implications of this model include a rapid increase in environmental ecologists' understanding of how spatial scales impact species diversity in a certain environment.[4]

Another model is Law and Diekmann's 1996 models on mutualism, which is defined as a relationship between two organisms that benefits both individuals.[5] Law and Diekmann developed a framework called adaptive dynamics, which assumes that changes in plant or animal populations in response to a disturbance or lack thereof occurs at a faster rate than mutations occur. It is aimed to simplify other models addressing the relationships within communities.[6]

Tangled nature model

The tangled nature model provides different methods for demonstrating and predicting trends in evolutionary ecology. The model analyzes an individual prone to mutation within a population as well as other factors such as extinction rate.[7] The model was developed by Simon Laird, Daniel Lawson, and Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen of the Imperial College London in 2002. The purpose of the model is to create a simple and logical ecological model based on observation. The model is designed such that ecological effects can be accounted for when determining form, and fitness of a population.

Ecological genetics

Ecological genetics tie into evolutionary ecology through the study of how traits evolve in natural populations.[8] Ecologists are concerned with how the environment and timeframe leads to genes becoming dominant. Organisms must continually adapt in order to survive in natural habitats. Genes define which organisms survive and which will die out. When organisms develop different genetic variations, even though they stem from the same species, it is known as polymorphism.[9] Organisms that pass on beneficial genes continue to evolve their species to have an advantage inside of their niche.

Evolutionary ecologists

Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron 2
Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Darwin

Charles Darwin

The basis of the central principles of evolutionary ecology can be attributed to Charles Darwin (1809–1882), specifically in referencing his theory of natural selection and population dynamics, which discusses how populations of a species change over time.[10] According to Ernst Mayr, professor of Zoology at Harvard University, Darwin’s most distinct contributions to evolutionary biology and ecology are as follows: “The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin.”[11] Additionally, “Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.”[12]

George Evelyn Hutchinson

George Evelyn Hutchinson’s (1903–1991) contributions to the field of ecology spanned over 60 years, in which he had significant influence in systems ecology, radiation ecology, limnology, and entomology.[13] Described as the “father of modern ecology” [14] by Stephen Jay Gould, Hutchinson was one of the first scientists to link the subjects of ecology and mathematics. According to Hutchinson, he constructed “mathematical models of populations, the changing proportions of individuals of various ages, birthrate, the ecological niche, and population interaction in this technical introduction to population ecology.”[15] He also had a vast interest in limnology, due to his belief that lakes could be studied as a microcosmthat provides insight into system behavior.[16] Hutchinson is also known for his work Circular Casual Systems in Ecology, in which he states that “groups of organisms may be acted upon by their environment, and they may react upon it. If a set of properties in either system changes in such a way that the action of the first system on the second changes, this may cause changes in properties of the second system which alter the mode of action of the second system on the first.” [17]

Robert MacArthur

Robert MacArthur (1930–1972) is best known in the field of Evolutionary Ecology for his work The Theory of Island Biogeography, in which he and his co-author propose “that the number of species on any island reflects a balance between the rate at which new species colonize it and the rate at which populations of established species become extinct.”[18]

Eric Pianka

According to the University of Texas, Eric Pianka’s (1939–present) work in evolutionary ecology includes foraging strategies, reproductive tactics, competition and niche theory, community structure and organization, species diversity, and understanding rarity.[19] Pianka is also known for his interest in lizards to study ecological occurrences, as he claimed they were “often abundant, making them relatively easy to locate, observe, and capture.”[20]

Michael Rosenzweig

Michael L. Rosenzweig (1941–present) created and popularized Reconciliation ecology, which began with his theory that designated nature preserves would not be enough land to conserve the biodiversity of Earth, as humans have used so much land that they have negatively impacted biogeochemical cycles and had other ecological impacts that have negatively affected species compositions.[21]

Other notable evolutionary ecologists


Michael Rosenzweig's idea of reconciliation ecology was developed based on existing research, which was conducted on the principle first suggested by Alexander von Humboldt stating that larger areas of land will have increased species diversity as compared to smaller areas. This research focused on species-area relationships (SPARs) and the different scales on which they exist, ranging from sample-area to interprovincial SPARs. Steady-state dynamics in diversity gave rise to these SPARs, which are now used to measure the reduction of species diversity on Earth. In response to this decline in diversity, Rosenzweig's reconciliation ecology was born.[25]

Evolutionary ecology has been studied using symbiotic relationships between organisms to determine the evolutionary forces by which such relationships develop. In symbiotic relationships, the symbiont must confer some advantage to its host in order to persist and continue to be evolutionarily viable. Research has been conducted using aphids and the symbiotic bacteria with which they coevolve. These bacteria are most frequently conserved from generation to generation, displaying high levels of vertical transmission. Results have shown that these symbiotic bacteria ultimately confer some resistance to parasites to their host aphids, which both increases the fitness of the aphids and lead to symbiont-mediated coevolution between the species.[26]

Color variation in cichlid fish

The effects of evolutionary ecology and its consequences can be seen in the case of color variation among African cichlid fish. With over 2,000 species, cichlid fishes are very species-rich and capable of complex social interactions.[27] Polychromatism, the variation of color patterns within a population, occurs within cichlid fishes due to environmental adaptations and to increase chances of sexual reproduction.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Morozov, Andrew (2013-12-06). "Modelling biological evolution: recent progress, current challenges and future direction". Interface Focus. 3 (6): 20130054. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2013.0054. ISSN 2042-8898. PMC 3915852.
  2. ^ "Lack, David Lambert." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. 17, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008, pp. 521–523. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=tusc49521&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX2830905204&it=r&asid=f73ad736d17e749682f6a72c03aeca54. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.
  3. ^ Brown, Joel S., and Noel B. Pavlovic. “Evolution in heterogeneous environments: Effects of migration on habitat specialization.” Evolutionary Ecology, vol. 6, no. 5, 1992, pp. 360–382. doi:10.1007/bf02270698.
  4. ^ Hart, Simon P., et al. “The spatial scales of species coexistence.” Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 1, no. 8, 2017, pp. 1066–1073. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0230-7
  5. ^ Bronstein, Judith. “Mutualisms and Symbioses.” Oxford Bibliographies, 20 Nov 2017, www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199830060/obo-9780199830060-0006.xml.
  6. ^ Akçay, Erol. (2015). Evolutionary models of mutualism. In J. L. Bronstein (Ed.), Mutualism (pp. 57–76). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Laird, Simon (2008), "The Tangled Nature Model of Evolutionary Ecology: An Overview", Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems, II: 49–62, doi:10.1007/978-0-8176-4556-4_5, ISBN 978-0-8176-4555-7
  8. ^ "Ecological Genetics". Wiley. September 2016. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  9. ^ "Polymorphism". biology online. December 6, 2008. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  10. ^ "Population Dynamics | e-cology". sites.nicholas.duke.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  11. ^ Mayr, Ernst. "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought". Scientific American. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  12. ^ Mayr, Ernst. "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought". Scientific American. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  13. ^ Slobodkin, L.B. (1993). "An Appreciation: George Evelyn Hutchinson". Journal of Animal Ecology. 62 (2): 390–394. doi:10.2307/5370. JSTOR 5370.
  14. ^ Slobodkin, L.B. (1993). "An Appreciation: George Evelyn Hutchinson". Journal of Animal Ecology. 62 (2): 390–394. doi:10.2307/5370. JSTOR 5370.
  15. ^ 1943-, Rockwood, Larry L. (2006). Introduction to population ecology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 9781405132633. OCLC 60322007.
  16. ^ Hyland, Callen (Summer 2011). "The Art of Ecology, Writings of G. Evelyn Hutchinson". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 84 (2): 175–176. ISSN 0044-0086. PMC 3117418.
  17. ^ Hutchinson, G. Evelyn (1948-10-01). "Circular Causal Systems in Ecology". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 50 (4): 221–246. Bibcode:1948NYASA..50..221H. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1948.tb39854.x. ISSN 1749-6632.
  18. ^ "Island Biogeography". web.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  19. ^ "Eric Pianka's Contributions to Ecology". www.zo.utexas.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  20. ^ "Eric Pianka's Contributions to Ecology". www.zo.utexas.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  21. ^ L., Rosenzweig, Michael (2003). Win-win ecology : how the earth's species can survive in the midst of human enterprise. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195156041. OCLC 62866022.
  22. ^ Eric R. Pianka. 2011. Evolutionary Ecology. Seventh Edition – eBook. p. 13. Accessed 7 June 2014.
  23. ^ Thierry Lodé 2014. Manifeste pour une écologie évolutive. Eds Odile Jacob, Paris.
  24. ^ Lodé, Thierry, et al. “Asynchronous arrival pattern, operational sex ratio and occurrence of multiple paternities in a territorial breeding anuran, Rana dalmatina.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, vol. 86, no. 2, 2005, pp. 191–200. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2005.00521.x.
  25. ^ Rosenzweig, Michael L. “Reconciliation ecology and the future of species diversity.” Oryx, vol. 37, no. 02, 10 Feb. 2003, doi:10.1017/s0030605303000371.
  26. ^ Vorburger, Christoph, et al. “Comparing constitutive and induced costs of symbiont-Conferred resistance to parasitoids in aphids.” Ecology and Evolution, vol. 3, no. 3, 2013, pp. 706–13. doi:10.1002/ece3.491.
  27. ^ Sabbah, Shai; Laria, Raico; Gray, Suzanne M; Hawryshyn, Craig W (October 28, 2010). "Functional diversity in the color vision of cichlid fishes". BMC Biology. 8: 133. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-133. PMC 2988715. PMID 21029409.
  28. ^ Seehausen; Mayhew; Alphen, J. J. M. Van (December 25, 2001). "Evolution of colour patterns in East African cichlid fish". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 12 (3): 514. doi:10.1046/j.1420-9101.1999.00055.x.

Further reading

  • Fox, C.W., Roff, D.A. and Fairbairn, D.J. 2001. Evolutionary Ecology: Concepts and Case Studies. Oxford University Press.
  • Mayhew, P.J. 2006. Discovering Evolutionary Ecology: Bringing Together Ecology and Evolution. Oxford University Press.
  • Pianka, E.R. 2000. Evolutionary Ecology, 6th ed. Benjamin Cummings.

External links

Cushion plant

A cushion plant is a compact, low-growing, mat-forming plant that is found in alpine, subalpine, arctic, or subarctic environments around the world. The term "cushion" is usually applied to woody plants that grow as spreading mats, are limited in height above the ground (a few inches at most), have relatively large and deep tap roots, and have life histories adapted to slow growth in a nutrient-poor environment with delayed reproductivity and reproductive cycle adaptations. The plant form is an example of parallel or convergent evolution with species from many different plant families on different continents converging on the same evolutionary adaptations to endure the harsh environmental conditions.


In evolutionary ecology, an ecotype, sometimes called ecospecies, describes a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is genotypically adapted to specific environmental conditions.

Typically, though ecotypes exhibit phenotypic differences (such as in morphology or physiology) stemming from environmental heterogeneity, they are capable of interbreeding with other geographically adjacent ecotypes without loss of fertility or vigor.

Eric Charnov

Eric L. Charnov (born October 29, 1947) is an American evolutionary ecologist. He is best known for his work on foraging, especially the marginal value theorem, and life history theory, especially sex allocation and scaling/allometric rules. He is a MacArthur Fellow and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Three of his papers are Science Citation Classics.

Charnov gained his B.S. in 1969 from the University of Michigan and his PhD in evolutionary ecology from the University of Washington in 1973. He is a Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) of Biology at the University of New Mexico and the University of Utah.

His research interests are: metabolic ecology (temperature and body size in the determination of biological times and rates), evolutionary ecology (population genetics), evolutionary game theory, and optimization models to understand the evolution of life histories, sex allocation, sexual selection, and foraging decisions.

Evolutionary Ecology (journal)

Evolutionary Ecology is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering the study of ecology from an evolutionary perspective. It was established in 1987 and is published by Springer Science+Business Media. The editor-in-chief is Matthew Symonds (Deakin University). According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2017 impact factor of 2.133.


Flea, the common name for the order Siphonaptera, includes 2,500 species of small flightless insects that survive as external parasites of mammals and birds. Fleas live by consuming blood or hematophagy, from their hosts. Adult fleas grow to about 3 mm or .12 in long, are usually brown, and have bodies that are "flattened" sideways, or narrow, enabling them to move through their host's fur or feathers. They lack wings, but have strong claws preventing them from being dislodged; mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood, and hind legs extremely well adapted for jumping. They are able to leap a distance of some 50 times their body length, a feat second only to jumps made by another group of insects, the superfamily of froghoppers. Fleas' larvae are worm-like with no limbs; they have chewing mouthparts and feed on organic debris left on their host's skin.

The Siphonaptera are most closely related to the snow scorpionflies, or snow fleas in the UK, formally the Boreidae, placing them within the Endopterygote insect order Mecoptera. Fleas arose in the early Cretaceous, most likely as ectoparasites of mammals, before moving on to other groups including birds. Each species of flea is more or less a specialist with respect to its host animal species: many species never breed on any other host, though some are less selective. Some families of fleas are exclusive to a single host group; for example, the Malacopsyllidae are found only on armadillos, the Ischnopsyllidae only on bats, and the Chimaeropsyllidae only on elephant shrews.

The oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, is a vector of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium which causes bubonic plague. The disease was spread by rodents such as the black rat, which were bitten by fleas that then infected humans. Major outbreaks included the Plague of Justinian, c. 540 and the Black Death, c. 1350, both of which killed a sizeable fraction of the world's population.

Fleas appear in human culture in such diverse forms as flea circuses, poems like John Donne's erotic The Flea, works of music such as by Modest Mussorgsky, and a film by Charlie Chaplin.

Graeme Ruxton

Graeme Ruxton is a zoologist known for his research into behavioural ecology and evolutionary ecology.

Hanna Kokko

Hanna Kokko (born 1971) is a scientist, working in the field of evolution and ecology. She was a Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Helsinki University, Finland, and at the Australian National University as a Professor of Evolutionary Ecology. She is currently Professor in Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Zürich. She has been awarded the 2010 Per Brinck Oikos Award and the British Ecological Society's Founder's Prize. Her move to Australia followed her appointment as an Australian Laureate Fellow. She was also made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2014.

Human behavioral ecology

Human behavioral ecology (HBE) or human evolutionary ecology applies the principles of evolutionary theory and optimization to the study of human behavioral and cultural diversity. HBE examines the adaptive design of traits, behaviors, and life histories of humans in an ecological context. One aim of modern human behavioral ecology is to determine how ecological and social factors influence and shape behavioral flexibility within and between human populations. Among other things, HBE attempts to explain variation in human behavior as adaptive solutions to the competing life-history demands of growth, development, reproduction, parental care, and mate acquisition.

HBE overlaps with evolutionary psychology, human or cultural ecology, and decision theory. It is most prominent in disciplines such as anthropology and psychology where human evolution is considered relevant for a holistic understanding of

human behavior or in economics where self-interest, methodological individualism, and maximization are key elements in modeling behavioral responses to various ecological factors.


Isodar is a theory of habitat selection in population biology proposed by Douglas W. Morris. The theory underscores the importance of the abundance and thus competition between the members of the same species in selecting habitats. The name "isodar" stems from "iso" in Latin meaning same and "dar" from Darwin.

Jon Seger

Jon Allen Seger is an American evolutionary ecologist, and Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah. He helped develop the theory of bet-hedging in biology. His work has appeared in leading scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Genetics, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, as well as popular magazines such as Scientific American.

Michael Rosenzweig

Dr. Michael L. Rosenzweig (b 1941) is a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona who has developed and popularized the concept of Reconciliation ecology. He received his Ph.D in Zoology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and has gone on to hold a number of positions around the United States.Rosenzweig has a large body of editorial work spanning from 1977 to present, founding the journals Evolutionary Ecology and Evolutionary Ecology Research as well as the publishing house, Evolutionary Ecology Ltd. with the help of his wife Carole. He has always been committed to the responsibility of disseminating scientific knowledge. An example of his commitment is when the Journal of Evolutionary Ecology was bought out at and the prices were to be raised he stepped down from his Editor in Chief position and founded Evolutionary Ecology Ltd which published the journal Evolutionary Ecology Research. He and his wife continue to operate with the responsibility of disseminating knowledge at the forefront of their business.Dr. Rosenzweig also has an impressive number of publications that reach up into the hundreds [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]. His articles cover topics ranging from species diversity to predation dynamics and includes work on environmental issues and public policy. He has published three books on the origins and conservation of species diversity, both for technical and general audiences. He received the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America in 2008 which is given to a senior ecologist for significant contributions to the field of ecology.


Palaeoworld is a peer-reviewed academic journal with a focus on palaeontology and stratigraphy research in and around China. It was founded in 1991 by the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS). The journal has been published quarterly since 2006; prior to 2006, it did not adhere to a fixed publication schedule.The journal publishes articles from several specialised fields pertaining to palaeobiology and earth science, such as: fossil taxonomy; biostratigraphy, chemostratigraphy, and chronostratigraphy; evolutionary biology; evolutionary ecology; palaeoecology; palaeoclimatology; and molecular palaeontology.Its editors-in-chief are Shuzhong Shen of the State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy at NIGPAS, and Norman MacLeod of the Natural History Museum, London.

Paul Alan Cox

Paul Alan Cox is an American ethnobotanist whose scientific research focuses on discovering new medicines by studying patterns of wellness and illness among indigenous peoples. Cox was born in Salt Lake City in 1953.

Robert Poulin (zoologist)

Robert Poulin is an evolutionary ecologist specialising in the ecology of parasitism. He is a professor of zoology at the University of Otago.

Ruth Mace

Ruth Mace, FBA (born 9 October 1961) is a British anthropologist, biologist, and academic. She specialises in the evolutionary ecology of human demography and life history, and phylogenetic approaches to culture and language evolution. Since 2004, she has been Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London.

Stephen Shennan

Stephen Shennan, FBA is a British archaeologist and academic. Since 1996, he has been Professor of Theoretical Archaeology. He was Director of the Institute of Archaeology at the University College London from 2005 to 2014.Shennan focuses on cultural evolution and Darwinian archaeology, applying theories from evolutionary ecology and cladistics to archaeology. In July 2006, Shenann was elected Fellow of the British Academy.

Thomas N. Sherratt

Thomas N. Sherratt, known as Tom, is a professor of evolutionary ecology at Carleton University, Canada. He is known for his research on camouflage, aposematism and mimicry.

Tim Caro

Tim Caro (c. 1952 – ) is an evolutionary ecologist known for his work on conservation biology, animal behaviour, anti-predator defences in animals, and especially the function of zebra stripes. He is the author of several textbooks on evolutionary ecology.

Worker policing

Worker policing is a behavior seen in colonies of social hymenopterans (ants, bees, and wasps) whereby worker females eat or remove eggs that have been laid by other workers rather than those laid by a queen. Worker policing ensures that the offspring of the queen will predominate in the group. In certain species of bees, ants and wasps, workers or the queen may also act aggressively towards fertile workers. Worker policing has been suggested as a form of coercion to promote the evolution of altruistic behavior in eusocial insect societies.Proposed mechanisms for the recognition of worker-laid eggs or active reproductive workers include marker hydrocarbons on the surface of queen-laid eggs, cuticle hydrocarbons on reproductive workers, and recognition of nest-mates. In rare cases, worker-laid eggs carry mimicked queen hydrocarbons and escape policing, a condition known as the anarchic syndrome.Not all forms of policing require the presence of a queen; it also occurs in a few species of ants which establish a dominance hierarchy of reproductive female workers, where top-ranking individuals reproduce.

Evolutionary ecology
Patterns of evolution
Food webs
Example webs
Ecology: Modelling ecosystems: Other components

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