Opinion: Evolvability costs of niche expansion

Trends in Genetics 36(1):14-23
Year of Publication: 
Bono, L.M., J.A. Draghi and P.E. Turner

What prevents generalists from displacing specialists, despite obvious competitive advantages of utilizing a broad niche? The classic genetic explanation is antagonistic pleiotropy: genes underlying the generalism produce ‘jacks-of-all-trades’ that are masters of none. However, experiments challenge this assumption that mutations enabling niche expansion must reduce fitness in other environments. Theory suggests an alternative cost of generalism: decreased evolvability, or the reduced capacity to adapt. Generalists using multiple environments experience relaxed selection in any one environment, producing greater relative lag load. Additionally, mutations fixed by generalist lineages early during their evolution that avoid or compensate for antagonistic pleiotropy may limit access to certain future evolutionary trajectories. Hypothesized evolvability costs of generalism warrant further exploration, and we suggest outstanding questions meriting attention.