Multiple Fitness Peaks on the Adaptive Landscape Drive Adaptive Radiation in the Wild

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Science  11 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6116, pp. 208-211
DOI: 10.1126/science.1227710

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Pupfish Speciation

Evolution moves along phenotypic trajectories that can be visualized as a topographic landscape of multiple peaks of relatively high-fitness and low-fitness valleys. Martin and Wainwright (p. 208) examined the adaptive landscape of three species of Cyprinodon pupfishes. These species represent a recent adaptive radiation, each having moved into a difference niche within their specialized environment. Examining replicate hybrid transplants relative to parental types in high- and low-density enclosures, the authors recovered the specialist parental phenotypes and observed higher survival and growth. Thus, high density can drive multiple fitness peaks during the early stages of adaptive radiation.


The relationship between phenotype and fitness can be visualized as a rugged landscape. Multiple fitness peaks on this landscape are predicted to drive early bursts of niche diversification during adaptive radiation. We measured the adaptive landscape in a nascent adaptive radiation of Cyprinodon pupfishes endemic to San Salvador Island, Bahamas, and found multiple coexisting high-fitness regions driven by increased competition at high densities, supporting the early burst model. Hybrids resembling the generalist phenotype were isolated on a local fitness peak separated by a valley from a higher-fitness region corresponding to trophic specialization. This complex landscape could explain both the rarity of specialists across many similar environments due to stabilizing selection on generalists and the rapid morphological diversification rate of specialists due to their higher fitness.

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