Gene flow favours local adaptation under habitat choice in ciliate microcosms

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Local adaptation is assumed to occur under limited gene flow. However, habitat-matching theory predicts dispersal should favour rather than hinder local adaptation when individuals selectively disperse towards habitats maximizing their performance. We provide experimental evidence that local adaptation to the upper margin of a species’ thermal niche is favoured by dispersal with habitat choice, but hindered under random dispersal. Our study challenges the idea that high gene flow precludes local adaptation, and provides unique experimental evidence of habitat choice as an overlooked mechanism responsible for adaptation under rapid environmental changes.

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Fig. 1: Habitat choice and thermal performance ability.
Fig. 2: Habitat choice favours local adaptation at the thermal niche margin.


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We thank O. Ronce for helpful comments. This study was supported by funding from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche INDHET (ANR-12-BSV7-0023) to S.J. and J.C., ANR Netselect (ANR-10-JCJC-1704) to A.S.C., and ARC (Actions de Recherche Concertées) 10-15/031, F.S.R.-FNRS (Fond National pour la Recherche Scientifique) and UCL-FSR (Université Catholique de Louvain) to S.J., D.L. and N.S. (an FNRS Research research associate). S.J. was awarded by a  Move-In-Louvain Marie Curie Action fellowship. D.B., S.J. and N.S. were funded by the FWO (Research Foundation—Flanders) research community EVENET (Eco-evolutionary network of biotic interactions) and a networking grant from Université Catholique de Louvain (FEEDING). D.B. was funded by the FWO (INVADED G018017N). This work was conducted by S.J., D.L., A.S.C., M.H. and J.C as part of a project of the Laboratoire d’Excellence entitled TULIP (Toward a Unified Theory of Biotic Interactions; ANR-10-LABX-41), and contributes (BRC401) to the Biodiversity Research Centre at Université Catholique de Louvain, to which N.S. and S.J. are affiliated.

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S.J., D.L., A.S.C., D.B. and J.C. defined the research theme. S.J., D.L., A.S.C., D.B., M.H. and J.C. set up the experimental protocols. S.J. performed the experiments and analysed the data with the help of M.H. and N.S. S.J. wrote the manuscript. D.L., A.S.C., D.B., N.S. and J.C. contributed substantially to the revisions.

Correspondence to Staffan Jacob.

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Jacob, S., Legrand, D., Chaine, A.S. et al. Gene flow favours local adaptation under habitat choice in ciliate microcosms. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1407–1410 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0269-5

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