Evolution in the context of complex communities

Experimental evolution and artificial selection have focused on the study of populations of single species in isolation. However, organisms evolve within complex communities that respond to environmental change. Furthermore, communities may evolve in response to environmental change or to artificial selection through both genetic changes within species, but also through changes in the abundance of species and changes in ecological interactions. The study of evolution at any higher level of organisation than the population is controversial, contentious and exciting.

Community rescue occurs when populations within a community evolve in response to an environmental stress that was initially lethal to all the constituent organisms. Our results suggest that entire communities have the potential to adapt to severe environmental stress and that this process is influenced by ecological factors including connectivity within a meta-community and the amount of biodiversity.