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Multiple Fitness Peaks on the Adaptive Landscape Drive Adaptive Radiation in the Wild

Increased competition is shown to drive multiple peaks in fitness during the adaptive radiation of a species.   The relationship between phenotype and fitness can be visualized as a rugged landscape. Multiple fitness peaks on this landscape are predicted to drive early bursts of niche diversification during adaptive radiation. The authors measured the adaptive landscape in a nascent adaptive radiation of Cyprinodonpupfishes endemic to San Salvador Island, Bahamas, and found multiple coexisting high-fitness regions driven by increased competition at high densities, supporting the early burst model. Hybrids resembling the generalist phenotype were isolated on a local fitness peak separated by a valley from a higher-fitness region corresponding to trophic specialization. This complex landscape could explain both the rarity of specialists across many similar environments due to stabilizing selection on generalists and the rapid morphological diversification rate of specialists due to their higher fitness.

Christopher H. Martin, Peter C. Wainwright
Science 11 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6116 pp. 208-211, DOI: 10.1126/science.1227710

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