Eco-evolutionary feedbacks: How to link theory to the real world (and what is the theory, by the way)
Over the last two decades, there has been growing awareness that reciprocal interactions between ecology and evolution might be pervasive and have significant effects on ecological dynamics and evolutionary adaptation. Here I argue that the study of evolution-ecology reciprocity is not possible without a general theory of eco-evolutionary feedbacks; and that the empirical analysis of eco-evolutionary feedbacks and dynamics must be based on quantitative models developed in this theoretical framework.
Accounting for feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes is a challenge for mathematical and computational models. The framework of adaptive dynamics (AD) modelling has given us powerful theoretical tools to explore how ecological context influences long-term evolution, and reciprocally how long-term evolution shapes the ecological properties of the evolving system. Eco-evolutionary mathematics have extended the initial development of AD theory to define a family of models of phenotypic adaptive evolution. The models’ family is rooted in an individual-level model of population dynamics, in which each individual is described by its life cycle, adaptive traits, relation with resources and environmental conditions, and potential interactions among all these factors. Different members of the models’ family obtain as alternate approximations of the underlying individual-level model. I will summarize state-of-the-art construction and analysis of these models, with particular emphasis on how to link them to empirical studies of eco-evolutionary feedbacks and dynamics.