Priority Programme 1819 “Rapid Evolutionary Adaptation: Potential and Constraints”

Programme description: 
The vast diversity of life on earth is the result of evolutionary processes that acted for billions of years. Consequently, it is often assumed that evolution requires long periods of time. Evolutionary adaptation to new environments as driven by natural selection can, however, occur very rapidly within tens of generations. This raises two questions: (1) What are the mechanisms of rapid adaptation? (2) Which factors enable and which factors prevent rapid adaptation? The Priority Programme addresses these questions by combining new developments in evolutionary theory with empirical investigations of rapidly adapting and experimentally tractable systems of animals, plants, eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms. The research programme will reveal insights about possible consequences of human-induced global change for future perspectives of biodiversity and the adaptive potential of natural and cultivated species.
Research projects in this programme have a strong foundation in theoretical population genetics and evolutionary biology, which will be the unifying concept to bridge theoretical and empirical studies of phenotypic and genetic evolution. The first objective of this Priority Programme is to investigate whether the potential for rapid adaptation is predominately dependent on the selective fixation of new mutations (hard selective sweeps) or changes in allele frequencies of standing genetic variation (soft selective sweeps). The second objective is the identification and investigation of factors that constrain rapid adaptation such as phenotypic plasticity, demographic changes (e.g. of population size), genetic and genomic architecture, or environmental heterogeneity.
To bridge the gap between theoretical and empirical research, the research projects combine theoretical approaches with empirical studies of suitable taxa. Theoretical methods include coalescence theory or other population genetic models, as well as quantitative genetic, demographic or ecological modelling. Empirical studies are based on state-of-the art genomic and phenotypic analyses of laboratory experiments, field trials or natural populations. By combining theoretical analyses with empirical studies, this programme takes advantage of the rapid development of genome sequencing technology and will move research beyond the descriptive analysis of genomic variation towards a detailed understanding of evolutionary processes.
Each research project in the Priority Programme belongs to at least one of the following four thematic groups:
• population genetic and ecological theory of rapid adaptation
• phenotypic evolution and rapid adaptation: plasticity versus genetic responses
• genomic sources of adaptive variation for rapid change
• co-adaptation of interacting species
Projects in the first group develop theoretical models of rapid adaptation for individual and interacting species and will implement statistical tests of the extent and type of selection occurring in rapidly adapting systems. Models and tests will be applied to data originating in other projects of the Priority Programme or to publicly available data. The other groups focus on the phenotypic, genomic or co-evolutionary factors associated with rapid adaptation and conduct empirical studies, which need to have a strong foundation in evolutionary theory and derived hypotheses.
Suitable study systems are single or interacting species of animals, plants, eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms with already established evidence of very recent or ongoing rapid adaptation within few tens of generations or which are amenable to experimental evolution. The study systems are accessible to phenotypic characterisation, genomic analysis and hypothesis testing in laboratory experiments, controlled field trials, or natural environments. Examples for interacting species include plant or animal hosts and their pathogens, and predator-prey systems. The Priority Programme does not fund projects that are purely descriptive or investigate rapid evolution in the distant past (i.e., species radiations). It focusses on naturally occurring genetic variation and does not include systems with experimentally altered mutations or mutation rates. Adaptation is defined in an evolutionary context, and purely plastic responses to environmental changes without any heritable component are not in the focus of this programme.
Programme owner: 
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/German Research Foundation
Plant science only: 
Single call: 
Programme duration: 
2015 to 2018
Applicant focus: 
Research focus: 
Call frequency: 
International partners: 
International partner funding: 
Euro (EUR)
Funding data
Year Annual funding Plant science share Number of funded projects* Average grant size* Avarage duration (months)*
* Plant science projects
20151 660 00040%21238 00036
20161 660 00040%21238 0000
20171 660 00040%21238 0000

This page was last updated 13-02-2015