Consequences of within population variation have recently attracted an increased interest in evolutionary ecology research. Theoretical models suggest important population-level consequences, but many of these predictions still remain to be tested. These issues are important for a deepened understanding of population performances and persistence, especially in a world characterized by rapid fragmentation of natural habitats and other environmental changes.
I review theoretical models of consequences from intra population genetic and phenotypic variation. I find that more variable populations are predicted to be characterized by broader resource use, reduced intraspecific competition, reduced vulnerability to environmental changes, more stable population dynamics, higher invasive potential, enhanced colonization and establishment success, larger distribution ranges, higher evolvability, higher productivity, faster population growth rate, decreased extinction risk, and higher speciation rate, compared with less variable populations.
To test some of these predictions I performed experiments and compared how different degree of colour polymorphism influences predation risk and establishment success in small groups. My comparisons of predation risk in mono- and polymorphic artificial prey populations showed that the risk of being eaten by birds does not only depend on the coloration of the individual prey item itself, but also on the coloration of the other members of the group. Two experiments on establishment success in small founder groups of
Tetrix subulata pygmy grasshoppers with different degree of colour morph diversity show that establishment success increases with higher degree of diversity, both under controlled conditions in outdoor enclosures and in the wild. These findings may be important for re-stocking of declining populations or re-introductions of locally extinct populations in conservation biology projects.
I report on remarkably rapid evolutionary shifts in colour morph frequencies in response to the changed environmental conditions in replicated natural populations of pygmy grasshoppers in fire ravaged areas. This finding
illustrates the high adaptive potential in a polymorphic species, and indicates the importance of preserved within-species diversity for evolutionary rescue.
Finally, I review if theoretical predictions are supported by other published empirical tests and find strong support for the predictions that more variable groups benefit from reduced vulnerability to environmental changes, reduced population fluctuations and extinction risk, larger distribution ranges, and higher colonization or establishment success.
In conclusion, my thesis illustrates how within-population variation influences ecological and evolutionary performances of populations both in the short and long term. As such, it emphasizes the need for conservation of biodiversity also within populations.
Kalmar: Linnaeus University Press, 2012. , 53 p.
colour polymorphism, diversity, establishment success, evolutionary changes, population-level consequences, predation risk, Tetrix subulata, variation
2012-12-14, Fullriggaren, Linnéuniversitetet, Landgången 4, Kalmar, 09:00 (English)