Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Ecology and Evolution 2016; 6(2): 573–581 doi: 10.1002/ece3.1899


Copyright 2016 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License,


It is increasingly recognized that evolution may occur in ecological time. It is not clear, however, how fast evolution – or phenotypic change more generally – may be in comparison with the associated ecology, or whether systems with fast ecological dynamics generally have relatively fast rates of phenotypic change. We developed a new dataset on standardized rates of change in population size and phenotypic traits for a wide range of species and taxonomic groups. We show that rates of change in phenotypes are generally no more than 2/3, and on average about 1/4, the concurrent rates of change in population size. There was no relationship between rates of population change and rates of phenotypic change across systems. We also found that the variance of both phenotypic and ecological rates increased with the mean across studies following a power law with an exponent of two, while temporal variation in phenotypic rates was lower than in ecological rates. Our results are consistent with the view that ecology and evolution may occur at similar time scales, but clarify that only rarely do populations change as fast in traits as they do in abundance.

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