Population differences in aggression are shaped by tropical cyclone-induced selection


Extreme events, such as tropical cyclones, are destructive and influential forces. However, observing and recording the ecological effects of these statistically improbable, yet profound ‘black swan’ weather events is logistically difficult. By anticipating the trajectory of tropical cyclones, and sampling populations before and after they make landfall, we show that these extreme events select for more aggressive colony phenotypes in the group-living spider Anelosimus studiosus. This selection is great enough to drive regional variation in colony phenotypes, despite the fact that tropical cyclone strikes are irregular, occurring only every few years, even in particularly prone regions. These data provide compelling evidence for tropical cyclone-induced selection driving the evolution of an important functional trait and show that black swan events contribute to within-species diversity and local adaptation.

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Fig. 1: The effects of tropical cyclones on colony fecundity.
Fig. 2: The effect of local cyclone frequencies on colony aggression.

Data availability

All raw data are available in Supplementary Dataset 1.


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Funding for this work was provided by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat Canada 150 Chairs Program.

Author information




The project was conceived by A.G.L. and J.N.P. A.G.L., D.N.F., T.W.P. and J.N.P planned the project. J.N.P. and T.W.S. supervised the project. J.N.P. and A.G.L. carried out the research and experimental work. A.G.L. and D.N.F. analysed the data. A.G.L. wrote the first draft. A.G.L, D.N.F., T.W.S. and J.N.P. reviewed and edited it.

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Correspondence to Jonathan N. Pruitt.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Tables 1 and 2, and methods.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Dataset 1

The complete data file for the analyses.

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Little, A.G., Fisher, D.N., Schoener, T.W. et al. Population differences in aggression are shaped by tropical cyclone-induced selection. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1294–1297 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0951-x

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