, Volume 112-113, Issue 1, pp 199-222

Explaining stasis: microevolutionary studies in natural populations

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Abstract

Microevolution, defined as a change in the genetic constitution of a population over time, is considered to be of commonplace occurrence in nature. Its ubiquity can be inferred from the observation that quantitative genetic divergence among populations usually exceeds that to be expected due to genetic drift alone, and from numerous observations and experiments consistent with local adaptation. Experimental manipulations in natural populations have provided evidence that rapid evolutionary responses may occur in the wild. However, there are remarkably few cases where direct observations of natural populations have revealed microevolutionary changes occurring, despite the frequent demonstration of additive genetic variation and strong directional selection for particular traits. Those few cases where responses congruent with expectation have been demonstrated are restricted to changes over one generation. In this article we focus on possible explanations as to why heritable traits under apparently strong directional selection often fail to show the expected evolutionary response. To date, few of these explanations for apparent stasis have been amenable to empirical testing. We describe new methods, derived from procedures developed by animal breeding scientists, which can be used to address these explanations, and illustrate the approach with examples from long-term studies of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). Understanding why most intensively studied natural populations do not appear to be evolving is an important challenge for evolutionary biology.