Ecological pleiotropy and indirect effects alter the potential for evolutionary rescue

John P. DeLong*, Jonathan Belmaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Invading predators can negatively affect naïve prey populations due to a lack of evolved defenses. Many species therefore may be at risk of extinction due to overexploitation by exotic predators. Yet the strong selective effect of predation might drive evolution of imperiled prey toward more resistant forms, potentially allowing the prey to persist. We evaluated the potential for evolutionary rescue in an imperiled prey using Gillespie eco-evolutionary models (GEMs). We focused on a system parameterized for protists where changes in prey body size may influence intrinsic rate of population growth, space clearance rate (initial slope of the functional response), and the energetic benefit to predators. Our results show that the likelihood of rescue depends on (a) whether multiple parameters connected to the same evolving trait (i.e., ecological pleiotropy) combine to magnify selection, (b) whether the evolving trait causes negative indirect effects on the predator population by altering the energy gain per prey, (c) whether heritable trait variation is sufficient to foster rapid evolution, and (d) whether prey abundances are stable enough to avoid very rapid extinction. We also show that when evolution fosters rescue by increasing the prey equilibrium abundance, invasive predator populations also can be rescued, potentially leading to additional negative effects on other species. Thus, ecological pleiotropy, indirect effects, and system dynamics may be important factors influencing the potential for evolutionary rescue for both imperiled prey and invading predators. These results suggest that bolstering trait variation may be key to fostering evolutionary rescue, but also that the myriad direct and indirect effects of trait change could either make rescue outcomes unpredictable or, if they occur, cause rescue to have side effects such as bolstering the populations of invasive species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-654
Number of pages19
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


FundersFunder number
James S. McDonnell Foundation
Bloom's Syndrome Foundation2014295
United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation


    • Gillespie eco-evolutionary model
    • allometric population models
    • eco-evolutionary dynamics
    • invasive predator
    • paradox of enrichment


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