Variation in the reversibility of evolution

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How reversible is adaptive evolution1,2,3,4,5,6? Studies of microbes give mixed answers to this question6,7,8,9,10,11. Reverse evolution has been little studied in sexual populations12,13,14, even though the population genetics of sexual populations may be quite different. In the present study, 25 diverged replicated populations of Drosophila melanogaster are returned to a common ancestral environment for 50 generations. Here we show that reverse evolution back to the ancestral state occurs, but is not universal, instead depending on previous evolutionary history and the character studied. Hybrid populations showed no greater tendency to undergo successful reverse evolution, suggesting that insufficient genetic variation was not the factor limiting reverse evolution. Adaptive reverse evolution is a contingent process which occurs with only 50 generations of sexual reproduction.

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Figure 1: Laboratory radiation due to five selection treatments.
Figure 2: Reverse evolution during 50 generations.
Figure 3: Reverse evolutionary rates as a function of differentiation at the start of the study.


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We thank P. Beldade, A. K. Chippindale, L. D. Mueller, E. Sucena and particularly M. Matos for advice throughout the project and for comments on the manuscript. H.T. was supported by the Gulbenkian Foundation and Program PRAXIS XXI/FCT under the “Programa Gulbenkian de Doutoramento em Biologia e Medicina”.

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Correspondence to Henrique Teotónio.

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