Evolutionary consequences of multidriver environmental change in an aquatic primary producer

Georgina Brennan, Nick Colegrave, Sinead Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change is altering aquatic environments in a complex way, and simultaneous shifts in many properties will drive evolutionary responses in primary producers at the base of both freshwater and marine ecosystems. So far, evolutionary studies have shown how changes in environmental drivers, either alone or in pairs, affect the evolution of growth and other traits in primary producers. Here, we evolve a primary producer in ninety-six unique environments with different combinations of between one and eight environmental drivers to understand how evolutionary responses to environmental change depend on the identity and number of drivers. Even in multidriver environments, only a few dominant drivers explain most of the evolutionary changes in population growth rates. Most populations converge on the same growth rate by the end of the evolution experiment. However, populations adapt more when these dominant drivers occur in the presence of other drivers. This is due to an increase in the intensity of selection in environments with more drivers, which are more likely to include dominant drivers. Concurrently, many of the trait changes that occur during the initial short-term response to both single and multidriver environmental change revert after about 450 generations of evolution. In future aquatic environments, populations will encounter differing combinations of drivers and intensities of selection, which will alter the adaptive potential of primary producers. Accurately gauging the intensity of selection on key primary producers will help in predicting population size and trait evolution at the base of aquatic food webs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9930-9935
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number37
Early online date28 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017


  • multiple environmental drivers
  • dominant environmental driver
  • adaptation
  • growth rate
  • chlorophyll fluorescence
  • cell size
  • chlamydomonas reinhardtii


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