Evolution of Competitive Ability: An Adaptation Speed vs. Accuracy Tradeoff Rooted in Gene Network Size
Ecologists have increasingly come to understand that evolutionary change on short time-scales can alter ecological dynamics (and vice-versa), and this idea is being incorporated into community ecology research programs. Previous research has suggested that the size and topology of the gene network underlying a quantitative trait should constrain or facilitate adaptation and thereby alter population dynamics. Here, I consider a scenario in which two species with different genetic architectures compete and evolve in fluctuating environments. An important trade-off emerges between adaptive accuracy and adaptive speed, driven by the size of the gene network underlying the ecologically-critical trait and the rate of environmental change. Smaller, scale-free networks confer a competitive advantage in rapidly-changing environments, but larger networks permit increased adaptive accuracy when environmental change is sufficiently slow to allow a species time to adapt. As the differences in network characteristics increase, the time-to-resolution of competition decreases. These results augment and refine previous conclusions about the ecological implications of the genetic architecture of quantitative traits, emphasizing a role of adaptive accuracy. Along with previous work, in particular that considering the role of gene network connectivity, these results provide a set of expectations for what we may observe as the field of ecological genomics develops.