The effect of temporal environmental autocorrelation on eco-evolutionary dynamics across life histories

Postuma, Maarten; Schmid, Max; Guillaume, Frédéric; Ozgul, Arpat; Paniw, Maria


One of the largest causes of fluctuations in the size and structure of populations is changes in the environment. In nature, these changes are often temporally autocorrelated and the strength and direction of the autocorrelation can affect population dynamics. These effects are mediated by complex, simultaneously occurring ecological and evolutionary processes, such as phenotypic plasticity and selection. Determining how these processes interact to affect responses of different life histories to autocorrelated environmental fluctuations is of paramount importance to infer which taxa are likely to go extinct or become invasive under global change. Here, we assessed the effect of autocorrelation in environmental states on the trait and population dynamics of different life histories using an evolutionary explicit individual-based modeling approach. We found that, in general, higher positive temporal autocorrelation caused more variation in population size. Fast life histories were more affected than slow ones as they were able to adapt more quickly to varying environmental optima and therefore experienced larger initial decreases in population size when optima changed. Including adaptive phenotypic plasticity buffered the effects of autocorrelation on population dynamics while nonadaptive plasticity amplified them, especially for slow life histories, which recovered less from maladaptation. This study highlights that integration of phenotypic plasticity, selection, and population dynamics is important to improve our understanding of how different life histories deal with autocorrelated climate variability.