Mongold, J. A., A. F. Bennett, and R. E. Lenski. 1996. Evolutionary adaptation to temperature. IV. Adaptation of Escherichia coli at a niche boundary. Evolution 50:35-43.
Following an environmental change, the course of a population's adaptive evolution may be influenced by environmental factors, such as the degree of marginality of the new environment relative to the organism's potential range, and by genetic factors, including constraints that may have arisen during its past history. Experimental populations of bacteria were used to address these issues in the context of evolutionary adaptation to the thermal environment. Six replicate lines of Escherichia coli (20 degrees C group), founded from a common ancestor, were propagated for 2000 generations at 20 degrees C, a novel temperature that is very near the lower thermal limit at which it can maintain a stable population size in a daily serial transfer (100-fold dilution) regime. Four additional groups (32/20, 37/20, 42/20, and 32-42/20 degrees C groups) of six lines, each with 2000 generation selection histories at different temperatures (32, 37, 42, and daily alternation of 32 and 42 degrees C), were moved to the same 20 degrees C environment and propagated in parallel to ascertain whether selection histories influence the adaptive response in this novel environment. Adaptation was measured by improvement in fitness relative to the common ancestor in direct competition experiments conducted at 20 degrees C. All five groups showed improvement in relative fitness in this environment; the mean fitness of the 20 degrees C group after 2000 generations increased by about 8%. Selection history had no discernible effect on the rate or final magnitude of the fitness responses of the four groups with different histories after 2000 generations. The correlated fitness responses of the 20 degrees C group were measured across the entire thermal niche. There were significant tradeoffs in fitness at higher temperatures; for example, at 40 degrees C the average fitness of the 20 degrees C group was reduced by almost 20% relative to the common ancestor. We also observed a downward shift of 1-2 degrees C in both the upper and lower thermal niche limits for the 20 degrees C selected group. These observations are contrasted with previous observations of a markedly greater rate of adaptation to growth near the upper thermal limit (42 degrees C) and a lack of trade-off in fitness at lower temperatures for lines adapted to that high temperature. The evolutionary implications of this asymmetry are discussed.