In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Direction and Magnitude of Selection
  • Fussmann Criteria
  • Recent Laboratory Experiments on Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics
  • Effects of Genetic Structure on Ecological Properties
  • Field Experiments on Population and Guild-Composition Effects on Community and Ecosystem Properties
  • Prospect

Ecology Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics
Thomas W. Schoener
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0030


The effect of ecological change on evolution has been a standard scientific theme for many years, but the reverse—how evolutionary dynamics affect ecological traits such as population growth rate—has only recently begun to take hold with the increasing realization that evolution can occur over ecological time scales. This newly highlighted causal direction and the feedback loop that is then implied—eco-evolutionary dynamics—has invigorated both ecologists and evolutionists and is contributing toward blurring the distinction between them. The logic of the eco-evolutionary-dynamics movement and the resulting research program is as follows. First, many studies have shown that ecological change affects evolution; indeed, natural selection is where ecology and evolution meet, and observations of this process are observations of “evolution in action.” Second, evolution can be fast, since by definition observations of evolution in action are of very fast evolution. Third, the reverse is also possible: evolutionary dynamics can affect ecology—because evolution can be so fast, ecological time and evolutionary time can be commensurate. Indeed, natural selection and population dynamics are both affected by births and deaths of individuals so are tightly related. Fourth, the view of evolution as ponderous and frequently unidirectional is now replaced with a new view: episodes of one-way directional evolutionary selection are interspersed with episodes of stasis or even episodes of selection in the other direction, giving a dynamic interplay between evolution and ecology over real time—the eco-evolutionary feedback. Fifth, there are few empirical examples, however, of evolutionary dynamics affecting ecological dynamics. Those that do exist are either laboratory experiments with small, often even micro-organisms, or field observations of long-term processes. In particular, almost no field-experimental demonstrations of eco-evolutionary dynamics have been successfully carried out so far, yet only they can settle the question of whether the evolution-to-ecology pathway is frequent and strong enough to be important in nature. A current top research priority is performing multigenerational field experiments on eco-evolutionary dynamics. I thank Jonathan Losos and David Reznick for comments on aspects of this article, and the US National Science Foundation for support.

General Overview

“Eco-evolutionary dynamics” in this article refers to the interplay between ecological and evolutionary dynamics in real time, that is, relatively instantaneously. As so named (in 2007; see Development of the Modern Field), eco-evolutionary dynamics is such a new field of science that only one general overview exists, that of Schoener 2011, although there are several historical antecedents (see Early Papers). This paper grew out of a presentation at the University of Chicago’s 2009 symposium celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The solicited presentation was “Population Dynamics,” but that being a rather dry topic and not particularly evolutionary, Schoener decided to try to assemble the recent research efforts aimed at showing that evolutionary dynamics can affect ecological dynamics in real time. The resulting presentation was entitled “The Newest Synthesis: Evolution + Ecology = EvoEco,” but Science, which published Schoener 2011, would not allow abbreviations or equations in titles, so the title had to be modified to what is given just below.

  • Schoener, T. W. 2011. The newest synthesis: understanding the interplay of evolutionary and ecological dynamics. Science 331.6016: 426–429.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1193954

    A review that grew out of a presentation at the University of Chicago’s Darwin symposium, and which attempted to synthesize much of the content of the eco-evolutionary-dynamics field as it existed at the end of 2010.

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