Environmental variation and biotic interactions limit adaptation at ecological margins: Lessons from rainforest Drosophila and European butterflies

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences





PubMed ID



The Royal Society Publishing


School of Medical and Health Sciences / Centre for Precision Health


NERC grants NE/G007039/1, NE/N010221/1, Royal Society Research Grant (2004), World Universities Network (WUN).


O'Brien, E. K., Walter, G. M., & Bridle, J. (2022). Environmental variation and biotic interactions limit adaptation at ecological margins: lessons from rainforest Drosophila and European butterflies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 377(1848), 20210017. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2021.0017


Models of local adaptation to spatially varying selection predict that maximum rates of evolution are determined by the interaction between increased adaptive potential owing to increased genetic variation, and the cost genetic variation brings by reducing population fitness. We discuss existing and new results from our laboratory assays and field transplants of rainforest Drosophila and UK butterflies along environmental gradients, which try to test these predictions in natural populations. Our data suggest that: (i) local adaptation along ecological gradients is not consistently observed in time and space, especially where biotic and abiotic interactions affect both gradient steepness and genetic variation in fitness; (ii) genetic variation in fitness observed in the laboratory is only sometimes visible to selection in the field, suggesting that demographic costs can remain high without increasing adaptive potential; and (iii) antagonistic interactions between species reduce local productivity, especially at ecological margins. Such antagonistic interactions steepen gradients and may increase the cost of adaptation by increasing its dimensionality. However, where biotic interactions do evolve, rapid range expansion can follow. Future research should test how the environmental sensitivity of genotypes determines their ecological exposure, and its effects on genetic variation in fitness, to predict the probability of evolutionary rescue at ecological margins.



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