The contemporary evolution of fitness

Andrew P. Hendry, Daniel J. Schoen, Matthew E. Wolak, Jane M. Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


The rate of evolution of population mean fitness informs how selection acting in contemporary populations can counteract environmental change and genetic degradation (mutation, gene flow, drift, recombination). This rate will influence population increases (e.g., range expansion), population stability (e.g., “cryptic” eco-evolutionary dynamics), and population recovery (i.e., evolutionary rescue). We review approaches for estimating such rates, especially in wild populations. We then review empirical estimates derived from two approaches: mutation accumulation (MA) and additive genetic variance in fitness (IA). MA studies inform how selection counters genetic degradation arising from deleterious mutations; typically generating estimates of <1% per generation. IA studies provide an integrated prediction of proportional change per generation; nearly always generating estimates of <20% and, more typically, <10%. Thus, considerable, but not unlimited, evolutionary potential exists in populations facing detrimental environmental or genetic change. However, further studies with diverse methods and species are required for more robust and general insights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-476
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
Early online date20 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

For the invitation to prepare this article, we thank the editorial board of AREES. For helpful advice and comments, we thank Austin Burt, Steinar Engen, Steve Franks, Mike Kinnison, Loeske Kruuk, Andrés López-Sepulcre, Luc De Meester, and Sally Otto. APH and DJS were supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants. APH was also supported by a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics. JMR and MEW were partly supported by a European Research Council Starting Grant to JMR. APH’s Mom read the text on short notice for typos and grammar.


  • rapid evolution
  • contemporary evolution
  • microevolution
  • natural selection
  • adaptation
  • climate change


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