, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 38-44

Demography of source—sink populations and the evolution of ecological niches

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The demography of populations living in variable environments is an important factor molding the evolution of ecological niches, for it determines the relative strength of selection pressures on adaptations to different habitats. Here I consider a coarse-grained environment consisting of two habitat types and investigate how the selection pressure on reproductive success in different habitats depends on their quality and frequency and the dispersal pattern. The results suggest that selection on adaptations to optimal habitats will usually be stronger than on adaptations to poor habitats and the ecological niche will thus tend to be an evolutionarily conservative character. It is because under the habitat choice or limited dispersal that seem to prevail in natural populations, more individuals encounter the better habitat than would be expected solely on the basis of its relative area. This bias results in reduced selection pressure on reproductive success in the poorer habitat. With habitat choice or limited dispersal, selection pressure on reproductive success in the poorer habitat may exceed that on reproductive success in the better habitat only if the poorer habitat is much more frequent in the environment than the better habitat and the difference in their quality is not large.