Density-dependent adaptive topography in a small passerine bird, the collared flycatcher

Bernt Erik Sæther*, Steinar Engen, Lars Gustafsson, Vidar Grøtan, Stefan J.G. Vriend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Adaptive topography is a central concept in evolutionary biology, describing how the mean fitness of a population changes with gene frequencies or mean phenotypes.We use expected population size as a quantity to be maximized by natural selection to show that selection on pairwise combinations of reproductive traits of collared flycatchers caused by fluctuations in population size generated an adaptive topography with distinct peaks often located at intermediate phenotypes. This occurred because r- and K-selection made phenotypes favored at small densities different from those with higher fitness at population sizes close to the carrying capacity K. Fitness decreased rapidly with a delay in the timing of egg laying, with a densitydependent effect especially occurring among early-laying females. The number of fledglings maximizing fitness was larger at small population sizes than when close to K. Finally, there was directional selection for large fledglings independent of population size. We suggest that these patterns can be explained by increased competition for some limiting resources or access to favorable nest sites at high population densities. Thus, r- and K-selection based on expected population size as an evolutionary maximization criterion may influence life-history evolution and constrain the selective responses to changes in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-110
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Collared flycatcher
  • Density dependence
  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • Fitness variation
  • Life-history evolution
  • R- and K-selection


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