Modes of adaptation and the capacity to cope with environmental change
Organisms use different types of response strategies to adapt to their local environment. These ‘modes of adaptation’ include developmental plasticity, phenotypic flexibility, diversifying bet-hedging, conservative bet-hedging, adaptive tracking, and epigenetic control. We will study the evolution of regulatory networks differing in architecture under a broad spectrum of environmental conditions, to determine whether the same mode of adaptation will evolve for any given ‘signature’ of the environment (the pattern and predictability of environmental variation).
Information processing and learning
To make ‘adaptive’ decisions, organisms should make optimal use of earlier experiences and their knowledge of the local environment. Information processing and learning are therefore important ingre-dients of evolved response mechanisms. This is particularly important in the context of communication, where individuals have to process and interpret the signals sent by others. We will develop neural network models for the evolution of ‘learning architectures’ that are highly flexible, allowing many evolutionary outcomes. We will investigate to what extent, in a given environment, evolution will shape learning mechanisms in a repeatable and predictable way, and we will determine to what extent the evolved learning architectures and/or the resulting learning dynamics correspond to those of real animals.
Mechanistic models of antagonistic coevolution
The dynamics and outcome of antagonistic coevolution strongly depends on the relative speed of adaptive evolution: typically, that species ‘wins’ the arms race that can most rapidly evolve counterstrategies to any given strategy of the other species. Since mechanisms may strongly affect the speed of evolution, it is likely that they affect the coevolutionary outcome. We will therefore build and investigate mechanistic models of antagonistic coevolution and systematically compare the induced co-eco-evolutionary dynamics with that of their non-mechanistic counterparts, with focus on the interplay of ecology and evolution, the emergence of intraspecific variation, and the coevolutionary outcome.