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In complex environments that contain several substitutable resources, lineages may become specialized to consume only one or a few of them. Here we investigate the importance of environmental complexity in determining the evolution of niche width over ∼900 generations in a chemically defined experimental system. We propagated 120 replicate lines of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens in environments of different complexity by using between one and eight carbon substrates in each environment. Genotypes from populations selected in complex environments evolved greater mean and variance in fitness than those from populations selected in simple environments. Thus, lineages were able to adapt to several substrates simultaneously without any appreciable loss of function with respect to other substrates present in the media. There was greater genetic and genotype-by-environment interaction variance for fitness within populations selected in complex environments. It is likely that genetic variance in populations grown on complex media was maintained because the identity of the fittest genotype varied among carbon substrates. Our results suggest that evolution in complex environments will result neither in narrow specialists nor in complete generalists but instead in overlapping imperfect generalists, each of which has become adapted to a certain range of substrates but not to all. © 2005 by The University of Chicago.

Original publication




Journal article


American Naturalist

Publication Date





470 - 480