Evolution of clonal populations approaching a fitness peak
Populations facing novel environments are expected to evolve through the accumulation of adaptive substitutions. The dynamics of adaptation depend on the fitness landscape and possibly on the genetic background on which new mutations arise. Here, we model the dynamics of adaptive evolution at the phenotypic and genotypic levels, focusing on a Fisherian landscape characterized by a single peak. We find that Fisher's geometrical model of adaptation, extended to allow for small random environmental variations, is able to explain several features made recently in experimentally evolved populations. Consistent with data on populations evolving under controlled conditions, the model predicts that mean population fitness increases rapidly when populations face novel environments and then achieves a dynamic plateau, the rate of molecular evolution is remarkably constant over long periods of evolution, mutators are expected to invade and patterns of epistasis vary along the adaptive walk. Negative epistasis is expected in the initial steps of adaptation but not at later steps, a prediction that remains to be tested. Furthermore, populations are expected to exhibit high levels of phenotypic diversity at all times during their evolution. This implies that populations are possibly able to adapt rapidly to novel abiotic environments.