Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 360–382 | Cite as

Evolution in heterogeneous environments: Effects of migration on habitat specialization

  • Joel S. Brown
  • Noel B. Pavlovic


Richard Levins introduced fitness sets as a tool for investigating evolution within heterogeneous environments. Evolutionary game theory permits a synthesis and generalization of this approach by considering the evolutionary response of organisms to any scale of habitat heterogeneity. As scales of heterogeneity increase from fine to coarse, the evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) switches from a single generalist species to several species that become increasingly specialized on distinct habitats. Depending upon the organisms' ecology, the switch from one to two species may occur at high migration rates (relatively fine-grained environment), or may only occur at very low migration rates (coarse-grained environment). At the ESS, the evolutionary context of a species is the entire landscape, while its ecological context may be a single habitat.

Evolution towards the ESS can be represented with adaptive landscapes. In the absence of frequency-dependence, shifting from a single strategy ESS to a two strategy ESS poses the problem of evolving across valleys in the adaptive surface to occupy new peaks (hence, Sewell Wright's shifting balance theory). Frequency-dependent processes facilitate evolution across valleys. If a system with a two strategy ESS is constrained to possess a single strategy, the population may actually evolve a strategy that minimizes fitness. Because the population now rests at the bottom of a valley, evolution by natural selection can drive populations to occupy both peaks.


habitat selection migration ESS fitness set frequency-dependent selection evolution of specialization landscape ecology adaptive surface 


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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel S. Brown
    • 1
  • Noel B. Pavlovic
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA

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