PLoS Biology: Adaptive Evolution in Ecological Communities
Understanding how natural selection drives evolution is a key challenge in evolutionary biology. Most studies of adaptation focus on how a single environmental factor, such as increased temperature, affects evolution within a single species. The biological relevance of these experiments is limited because nature is infinitely more complex. Most species are embedded within communities containing many species that interact with one another and the physical environment. To understand the evolutionary significance of such ecological complexity, experiments must test the evolutionary impact of interactions among multiple species during adaptation. Here we highlight an experiment that manipulates species composition and tracks evolutionary responses within each species, while testing for the mechanisms by which species interact and adapt to their environment. We also discuss limitations of previous studies of adaptive evolution and emphasize how an experimental evolution approach can circumvent such shortcomings. Understanding how community composition acts as a selective force will improve our ability to predict how species adapt to natural and human-induced environmental change.