The influence of evolution on population spread through patchy landscapes

Jennifer L. Williams, Robin E. Snyder, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Predicting the spatial advance of biological invasions and range-shifting native species under climate change requires understanding how evolutionary processes influence the velocity of spread. Although landscape heterogeneity and the finite nature of individuals are known to influence the ecological dynamics of spreading populations, their effect on evolutionary dynamics influencing spread is poorly understood. We used adaptive dynamics and simulation approaches to evaluate the direction of selection on demographic and competitive traits in annual plant populations spreading through linear landscapes. In contrast to models in homogeneous environments where low-density fecundity is selectively favored, we found that large gaps between suitable habitat could favor the rise of competitively tolerant individuals at the invasion front, even when this ability to tolerate competitors came at the cost of reduced fecundity when rare. Simulations of the same processes incorporating finite individuals revealed a spatial priority effect; the long-term outcome of evolution strongly depended on which strategy initially got ahead. Finally, we found that although evolutionary change in demographic and competitive traits could increase the spread velocity, this increase could be insignificant in patchy landscapes, where competitive traits were favored in both spreading and nonspreading populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Biological invasions
  • Dispersal
  • Landscape heterogeneity
  • Spatial priority effect
  • Spatial spread


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