Abstracts (first author)


Adaptive dynamics modelling with evolving epigenetics

Author(s): Van Dooren TJM


The term epigenetics is used to cover both the development of phenotypes from genotypes and the existence of alternative epigenetic birth states for a given genotype. If we define genotype-phenotype maps very broadly as the phenotypes and phenotype distributions a genotype can produce, then we can use these to model how an evolutionary dynamics depends on underlying traits and genotypic variation which control apparent phenotype distributions. Such models can then investigate different epigenetic mechanisms simultaneously evolving.

A long-term perspective on fitness and evolutionary dynamics is essential to understand whether an epigenetic architecture is adaptive. I propose to use invasion fitness of mutants and adaptive dynamics approximations to investigate this. For such approximations in models with apparent and underlying traits of individual phenotypes and alleles, expressions for fitness gradients and evolutionary stability criteria are derived. I complement these with tools to investigate models where the apparent traits are life history fitness components such as stage-specific survival probabilities, and probabilities that gametes switch from the epigenetic states of their parental alleles at a certain locus into another. It is shown that a per-generation perspective on the dynamics of populations of mutants is essential to get good insight in the evolutionary dynamics of alternative epigenetic birth states.

A specific example with evolving plastic epigenetic switching and evolving juvenile survival probabilities is worked out to discuss how trans-generational effects of parental birth state could evolve in a given ecological setting. I pay particular attention to the existence of alternative evolutionary outcomes for the same ecology, and to whether randomizing or plastic epigenetic switching strategies are most adaptive.



Giants from dwarfs: support for sympatric processes of size divergence in Austrolebias South-American annual killifish


Author(s): Van Dooren TJM, Thomassen H, Kraaijeveld-Smit FJL


To determine the plausibility of sympatric speciation, we need to determine its relative rate of occurrence across different speciation events. Here we focus on a small taxonomic group and a particular speciation mechanism which requires sympatry: the emergence of a large and small species pair where the large cannibalizes the small. This scenario has been named “giant-dwarf” diversification. A comparative analysis of body size measures of Austrolebias South-American annual killifish suggests that species evolve towards one of three size optima. Species evolving towards the largest optimal size appeared at least three times from small in the Austrolebias genus. The first large ancestral species per event appeared in a trait change with relatively high speed in all three cases, consistent with expectations of cannibalism evolution. A comparative analysis of lower jaw length, a proxy for the level of specialization in piscivory suggests that in one clade of large species trait values indicate a very weak or no specialization towards piscivory, and that in the two other clades species are selected towards two optima with relatively large jaw lengths. By means of a reconstruction of ancestral species ranges we show that speciation events leading to a large and smaller species pair were sympatric with a large likelihood. For the clade of large species with little specialization, the probability that speciation was non-sympatric is largest among the three events. Conditional on the data we analysed, one can therefore conclude that giant-dwarf speciation by cannibalism most probably occurred twice in Austrolebias and that a third appearance of large species in the genus likely occurred by other selective or non-selective processes.

Abstracts (coauthor)


Maturation is a key life history transition, due to the importance of age and size at maturity in determining fitness. Understanding how maturation phenotypes evolve requires an appreciation of the underlying ontogenetic mechanisms, including the maturation threshold, which determines when an individual ‘decides’ to mature. Maturation thresholds are poorly understood, and little is known about how phenotypically plastic or genetically variable they are, but the parthenogenetic crustacean Daphnia is the ideal organism in which to study their evolution. Statistically modelling the maturation process shows that the maturation threshold is a developmentally plastic trait in response to variable resource availability, and more closely resembles a process with a rate than a discrete switch. The idea that the threshold is better thought of as a rate than a switch is further supported by gene expression changes during maturation. The maturation threshold also differs between genotypes and species of Daphnia, and clone-specific maternal effects in the development and growth rate interact to produce phenotypically plastic adult phenotypes. Furthermore, experiments studying the fitness consequences of maturation variation showed that Daphnia magna genotypes initiating maturation at smaller sizes had a higher intrinsic rate of population increase, but this size did not correlate well with competitive success when five clones were directly competed with each other, suggesting that interactions with other factors were influencing fitness. Maturation thresholds in Daphnia do not appear to be based on a single fixed state, but are responsive to environmental variation. The presence of heritable variation and transgenerational effects in these developmentally plastic traits suggests that they have an important role in the evolution of age and size at maturity.

Linking fire adaptations with environmental niches: theoretical and phylogenetic prospects

Author(s): Tonnabel, J, Ronce O, Schurr F, Van Dooren T, Mignot A, Douzery E, Midgley J, Boucher F, Lavergne S, Thuiller W, Olivieri I


In fire-prone environments, the evolution of plant life-histories is thought to be strongly influenced by fire regimes and environmental conditions. Fire management practices should therefore be informed by a better understanding of how fire related life-history traits have been shaped by environmental changes throughout evolutionary history. Perennial plant species in fire-prone environments have developed a wide range of adaptations to fire, which differ in the source of new recruits following fire events. Resprouting species can survive fires regenerating vegetatively from protected buds. In contrast, individuals of “obligate seeder” species are killed by fire: the population will only persist through seeds stored either in the soil or in the canopy (serotiny). To better explain such diversity of strategies, we used a optimization modeling approach (Tonnabel et al. 2012) to predict how fire regime and environmental conditions influence fire life history evolution (in particular serotiny). We then confront the predictions with data about relationships between life-history traits and environment collected for the genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae) in the South-African fynbos. We use comparative analyses approaches to test whether the evolution of particular fire-adaptations is linked to occurrence in specific environments (i.e. fire regimes, precipitation, temperature...) across a newly reconstructed phylogeny. This analysis reveals that fire adaptations arose several times during the evolutionary history of the Leucadendron. As predicted, we find that the evolution of serotinous obligate seeders is associated with the evolution of ecological niches where water limitation is weaker than for all other strategies. Such findings can help understand which species will probably be most vulnerable to climate change that is supposed to lead to dryer conditions in the South-African fynbos.


The genus Austrolebias consists of over 30 species of freshwater annual killifish. These fish reside in ephemeral pools across a wide region of South America including parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Austrolebias possess a peculiar and interesting life-history. Males and females dive together into the muddy substrate of the pond and deposit their gametes. Later, these adults are often seen dying in shallow water as the ponds completely evaporate during the beginning of the dry season. The eggs then go through several stages of diapause until hatching is triggered by the earliest wet season rains, after which the fish grow rapidly and the process is repeated. The large geographic range of Austrolebias means that the genus is subject to considerable variation in climate. I reveal which climate variables are most important in determining the distribution of Austrolebias by using data collated from my own collection trips, primary literature, online biodiversity databases as well as the records of amateur collectors. Larger species of Austrolebias can be up to 13cm in length, the smallest only 4cm. Recent phylogenetic work has shown that large species have been derived from small species in at least 3 separate instances. I use phylogenetic independent contrasts to investigate whether any bioclimatic variables can explain this variation in size. In addition, species distribution models (SDMs) are built using Maxent and subsequently compared using ENMTools in order to identify whether those species that are morphologically similar possess a similar climatic niche. The nature of the Austrolebias life cycle suggests that it is sensitive to climate change. Current SDMs are compared to 2050 SDMs using the HadCM3 model with multiple emission scenarios to predict the future range shifts of Austrolebias in order to discern the effect climate change will have on this genus.


Chairman: Octávio S. Paulo
Tel: 00 351 217500614 direct
Tel: 00 351 217500000 ext22359
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email: mail@eseb2013.com


XIV Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology

Organization Team
Department of Animal Biology (DBA)
Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon
P-1749-016 Lisbon


Computational Biology & Population Genomics Group