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Open Access Research article

A theoretical quantitative genetic study of negative ecological interactions and extinction times in changing environments

Adam G Jones

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Texas A&M University, 3258 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:119  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-119

Published: 25 April 2008

Abstract

Background

Rapid human-induced changes in the environment at local, regional and global scales appear to be contributing to population declines and extinctions, resulting in an unprecedented biodiversity crisis. Although in the short term populations can respond ecologically to environmental alterations, in the face of persistent change populations must evolve or become extinct. Existing models of evolution and extinction in changing environments focus only on single species, even though the dynamics of extinction almost certainly depend upon the nature of species interactions.

Results

Here, I use a model of quantitative trait evolution in a two-species community to show that negative ecological interactions, such as predation and competition, can produce unexpected results regarding time to extinction. Under some circumstances, negative interactions can be expected to hasten the extinction of species declining in numbers. However, under other circumstances, negative interactions can actually increase times to extinction. This effect occurs across a wide range of parameter values and can be substantial, in some cases allowing a population to persist for 40 percent longer than it would in the absence of the species interaction.

Conclusion

This theoretical study indicates that negative species interactions can have unexpected positive effects on times to extinction. Consequently, detailed studies of selection and demographics will be necessary to predict the consequences of species interactions in changing environments for any particular ecological community.