The adaptive dynamics of niche constructing traits in spatially subdivided populations: evolving posthumous extended phenotypes

Evolution. 2008 Mar;62(3):549-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00291.x. Epub 2007 Nov 3.


Niche construction, by which organisms modify the environment in which they live, has been proposed to affect the evolution of many phenotypic traits. But what about the evolution of a niche constructing trait itself, whose expression changes the pattern of natural selection to which the trait is exposed in subsequent generations? This article provides an inclusive fitness analysis of selection on niche constructing phenotypes, which can affect their environment from local to global scales in arbitrarily spatially subdivided populations. The model shows that phenotypic effects of genes extending far beyond the life span of the actor can be affected by natural selection, provided they modify the fitness of those individuals living in the future that are likely to have inherited the niche construction lineage of the actor. Present benefits of behaviors are thus traded off against future indirect costs. The future costs will generally result from a complicated interplay of phenotypic effects, population demography and environmental dynamics. To illustrate these points, I derive the adaptive dynamics of a trait involved in the consumption of an abiotic resource, where resource abundance in future generations feeds back to the evolutionary dynamics of the trait.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phenotype*
  • Selection, Genetic