Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 723–731

On the evolutionary stability of sink populations


  • Robert D. Holt
    • Department of Systematics and Ecology, Natural History MuseumUniversity of Kansas

DOI: 10.1023/A:1018438403047

Cite this article as:
Holt, R.D. Evolutionary Ecology (1997) 11: 723. doi:10.1023/A:1018438403047


The evolution of adaptive behaviours can influence population dynamics. Conversely, population dynamics can affect both the rate and direction of adaptive evolution. This paper examines reasons why sink populations – populations maintained by immigration, preventing local extinction – might persist in the habitat repertoire of a species over evolutionary time-scales. Two such reasons correspond to standard explanations for deviations from an ideal free habitat distribution: organisms may not be free to settle in whichever habitat has the highest potential fitness, and may be constrained by costs, perceptual limitations, or mode of dispersal in the acuity of their habitat selectivity. Here, I argue that a third general reason for persistent sink populations is provided by unstable population dynamics in source habitats. I present a simple model illustrating how use of a sink habitat may be selectively advantageous, when a source population has unstable dynamics (which necessarily reflects temporal variation in local fitnesses). Species with unstable local dynamics in high-quality habitats should be selected to utilize a broader range of habitats than species with stable local dynamics, and in particular in some circumstances should utilize sink habitats. This observation has implications for the direction of niche evolution, and the likelihood of niche conservatism.

habitat breadth niche conservatism source dynamics

Copyright information

© Chapman and Hall 1997