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It has often been argued that evolutionary diversification is the result of divergent natural selection for specialization on alternative resources. I provide a comprehensive review of experiments that examine the ecology and genetics of resource specialization and adaptive radiation in microbial microcosms. In these experiments, resource heterogeneity generates divergent selection for specialization on alternative resources. At a molecular level, the evolution of specialization is generally attributable to mutations that de-regulate the expression of existing biosynthetic and catabolic pathways. Trade-offs are associated with the evolution of resource specialization, but these trade-offs are often not the result of antagonistic pleiotropy. Replicate adaptive radiations result in the evolution of a similar assemblage of specialists, but the genetic basis of specialization differs in replicate radiations. The implications of microbial selection experiments for evolutionary theory are discussed and future directions of research are proposed. © 2005 European Society for Evolutionary Biology.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Evolutionary Biology

Publication Date





1376 - 1386