The rate of directional environmental change may have profound consequences for evolutionary dynamics and outcomes. Yet, most evolution experiments impose a sudden large change in the environment, after which the environment is kept constant. We previously cultured replicate Saccharomyces cerevisiae populations for 500 generations in the presence of either gradually increasing or constant high concentrations of the heavy metals cadmium, nickel, and zinc. Here, we investigate how each of these treatments affected genomic evolution. Whole genome sequencing of evolved clones revealed that adaptation occurred via a combination of SNPs, small indels, and whole genome duplications and other large-scale structural changes. In contrast to some theoretical predictions, gradual and abrupt environmental change caused similar numbers of genomic changes. For cadmium, which is toxic already at comparatively low concentrations, mutations in the same genes were used for adaptation to both gradual and abrupt increase in concentration. Conversely, for nickel and zinc, which are toxic at high concentrations only, mutations in different genes were used for adaptation depending on the rate of change. Moreover, evolution was more repeatable following a sudden change in the environment, particularly for nickel and zinc. Our results show that the rate of environmental change and the nature of the selection pressure are important drivers of evolutionary dynamics and outcomes, which has implications for a better understanding of societal problems such as climate change and pollution.
- Keywords: Environmental Change, Experimental Evolution, Heavy Metals, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.