The Roles of Standing Genetic Variation and Evolutionary History in Determining the Evolvability of Anti-Predator Strategies
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Standing genetic variation and the historical environment in which that variation arises (evolutionary history) are both potentially significant determinants of a population's capacity for evolutionary response to a changing environment. Using the open-ended digital evolution software Avida, we evaluated the relative importance of these two factors in influencing evolutionary trajectories in the face of sudden environmental change. We examined how historical exposure to predation pressures, different levels of genetic variation, and combinations of the two, affected the evolvability of anti-predator strategies and competitive abilities in the presence or absence of threats from new, invasive predator populations. We show that while standing genetic variation plays some role in determining evolutionary responses, evolutionary history has the greater influence on a population's capacity to evolve anti-predator traits, i.e. traits effective against novel predators. This adaptability likely reflects the relative ease of repurposing existing, relevant genes and traits, and the broader potential value of the generation and maintenance of adaptively flexible traits in evolving populations.
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