- Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution - Montpellier, CNRS, Montpellier, France
- Behavior & Social Evolution, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Evolutionary Theory, Phylogeography & Biogeography, Population Genetics / Genomics, Sexual Selection
The evolutionary dynamics of plastic foraging and its ecological consequences: a resource-consumer model
Evolution and consequences of plastic foraging behavior in consumer-resource ecosystemsRecommended by François Rousset based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers
Plastic responses of organisms to their environment may be maladaptive in particular when organisms are exposed to new environments. Phenotypic plasticity may also have opposite effects on the adaptive response of organisms to environmental changes: whether phenotypic plasticity favors or hinders such adaptation depends on a balance between the ability of the population to respond to the change non-genetically in the short term, and the weakened genetic response to environmental change. These topics have received continued attention, particularly in the context of climate change (e.g., Chevin et al. 2013, Duputié et al., 2015, Vinton et al . 2022).
In their work, Ledru et al. focus on the adaptive nature of plastic behavior and on its consequences in a consumer-resource ecosystem. As they emphasize, previous works have found that plastic foraging promotes community stability, but these did not consider plasticity as an evolving trait, so Ledru et al. set out to test whether this conclusion holds when both plastic foraging and niche traits of consumers and resources evolve (though ultimately, their new conclusions may not all depend on plasticity evolving). Along the way, they first seek to clarify when such plasticity will evolve, and how it affects the evolution of the niche diversity of consumers and resources, before turning to the question of consumer persistence.
The model is rather complex, as three traits are allowed to evolve, and the resource uptake expressed through plastic behavior has its own dynamics affected by some form of social learning. Classically, in models of niche evolution, a consumer's efficiency in exploiting a resource characterized by a trait y (here, the resource's individual niche trait), has been described in terms of location-scale (typically Gaussian) kernels, with mean x (the consumer's individual niche trait) specifying the most efficiently exploited resource, and with variance characterizing individual niche breadth. The evolution of the variance has been considered in some previous models but is assumed to be fixed here. Rather, the new model considers the evolution of the distribution of resource traits, of the consumer's individual niche trait (which is not plastic), and of a "plastic foraging trait" that controls the relative time spent foraging plastically versus foraging randomly. When foraging plastically, the consumers modify their foraging effort towards the type of resource that maximizes their energy intake. in some previous models, the effect of variation in the extent of plastic foraging was already considered, but the evolution of allocation to a plastic foraging strategy versus random foraging was not considered. The model is formulated through reaction-diffusion equations, and its dynamics is investigated by numerical integration.
Foraging plasticity readily evolves, when resources vary widely enough, competition for resources is strong, and the cost of plasticity is weak. This means in particular that a large individual niche width of consumers selects for increased plastic foraging, as the evolution of plastic foraging leads to reduced niche overlap between consumers. The evolution of plastic foraging itself generally, though not always, favors the diversification of the niche traits of consumers and of resources. There is thus a positive feedback loop between plastic foraging and resource diversity. Ledru et al. conclude that the total niche width of the consumer population should also correlate with the evolution of plastic foraging, an implication which they relate to the so-called niche variation hypothesis and to empirical tests of it.
The joint evolution of the consumer's individual niche trait and plastic foraging trait generates a striking pattern within populations: consumers whose individual niche trait is at an edge of the resource distribution forage more plastically. The authors observe that this relatively simple prediction has not been subjected to any empirical test.
Returning to the question of consumer persistence, Ledru et al. evaluate this persistence when consumer mortality increases, and in response to either gradual or sudden environmental changes. These different perturbations all reduce the benefits of plastic foraging. The effect of plastic foraging on stability are complex, being negative or positive effect depending on the type of disturbance, and in particular the ecosystem has a lower sustainable rate of environmental change in the presence of plastic foraging. However, allowing the evolutionary regression of plastic foraging then has a comparatively positive effect on persistence.
Despite the substantial effort devoted to analyzing this complex model, relaxing some of its assumptions would likely reveal further complexities. Notably, the overall effect of plasticity on consumer persistence depends on effects already encountered in models of the adaptive response of single species to environmental change: a fast non-genetic response in the short term versus a weakened genetic response in the longer term. The overall balance between these opposite effects on adaptation may be difficult to predict robustly. In the case of a constant rate of environmental change, the results of the present model depend on a lag load between the trait changes of consumer and resource populations, and the extent of the lag may also depend on many factors, such as the extent of genetic variation (e.g., Bürger & Lynch, 1995) for niche traits in consumers and resources. Here, the same variance of mutational effects was assumed for all three evolving traits. Further, spatial environmental variation, a central issue in studies of adaptive responses to environmental changes (e.g., Parmesan, 2006, Zhu et al., 2012), was not considered. Finally, the rate of adjustment of effort by consumers with given niche trait and plastic foraging trait values was assumed proportional to the density of consumers with such trait values. This was justified as a way of accounting for the use of social cues during foraging, but to the extent that they occur, social effects could manifest themselves through other learning dynamics.
In conclusion, Ledru et al. have addressed a broad range of questions, suggesting new empirical tests of behavioural patterns on one side, and recovering in the context of community response to environmental changes a complexity that could be expected from earlier works on adaptive responses of organisms but that has been overlooked by previous works on community effects of phenotypic plasticity.
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Ledru, L., Garnier, J., Guillot, O., Faou, E., & Ibanez, S. (2023). The evolutionary dynamics of plastic foraging and its ecological consequences: a resource-consumer model. EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.32942/X2QG7M
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A novel workflow to improve multi-locus genotyping of wildlife species: an experimental set-up with a known model system
Improving the reliability of genotyping of multigene families in non-model organismsRecommended by François Rousset based on reviews by Sebastian Ernesto Ramos-Onsins, Helena Westerdahl and Thomas Bigot
The reliability of published scientific papers has been the topic of much recent discussion, notably in the biomedical sciences . Although small sample size is regularly pointed as one of the culprits, big data can also be a concern. The advent of high-throughput sequencing, and the processing of sequence data by opaque bioinformatics workflows, mean that sequences with often high error rates are produced, and that exact but slow analyses are not feasible.
The troubles with bioinformatics arise from the increased complexity of the tools used by scientists, and from the lack of incentives and/or skills from authors (but also reviewers and editors) to make sure of the quality of those tools. As a much discussed example, a bug in the widely used PLINK software  has been pointed as the explanation  for incorrect inference of selection for increased height in European Human populations .
High-throughput sequencing often generates high rates of genotyping errors, so that the development of bioinformatics tools to assess the quality of data and correct them is a major issue. The work of Gillingham et al.  contributes to the latter goal. In this work, the authors propose a new bioinformatics workflow (ACACIA) for performing genotyping analysis of multigene complexes, such as self-incompatibility genes in plants, major histocompatibility genes (MHC) in vertebrates, and homeobox genes in animals, which are particularly challenging to genotype in non-model organisms. PCR and sequencing of multigene families generate artefacts, hence spurious alleles. A key to Gillingham et al.‘ s method is to call candidate genes based on Oligotyping, a software pipeline originally conceived for identifying variants from microbiome 16S rRNA amplicons . This allows to reduce the number of false positives and the number of dropout alleles, compared to previous workflows.
This method is not based on an explicit probability model, and thus it is not conceived to provide a control of the rate of errors as, say, a valid confidence interval should (a confidence interval with coverage c for a parameter should contain the parameter with probability c, so the error rate 1- c is known and controlled by the user who selects the value of c). However, the authors suggest a method to adapt the settings of ACACIA to each application.
To compare and validate the new workflow, the authors have constructed new sets of genotypes representing different extents copy number variation, using already known genotypes from chicken MHC. In such conditions, it was possible to assess how many alleles are not detected and what is the rate of false positives. Gillingham et al. additionally investigated the effect of using non-optimal primers. They found better performance of ACACIA compared to a preexisting pipeline, AmpliSAS , for optimal settings of both methods. However, they do not claim that ACACIA will always be better than AmpliSAS. Rather, they warn against the common practice of using the default settings of the latter pipeline. Altogether, this work and the ACACIA workflow should allow for better ascertainment of genotypes from multigene families.
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 Gillingham, M. A. F., Montero, B. K., Wihelm, K., Grudzus, K., Sommer, S. and Santos P. S. C. (2020) A novel workflow to improve multi-locus genotyping of wildlife species: an experimental set-up with a known model system. bioRxiv 638288, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/638288
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