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Journal Article

On the fitness of informative cues in complex environments


Mafessoni,  Fabrizio
Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;


Gokhale,  Chaitanya S.
Research Group Theoretical Models of Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics, Department Evolutionary Theory, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Mafessoni, F., Lachmann, M., & Gokhale, C. S. (2021). On the fitness of informative cues in complex environments. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 527: 110819. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2021.110819.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-ACEA-0
To be able to deal with uncertainty is of primary importance to all organisms. When cues provide information about the state of the environment, organisms can use them to respond flexibly. Thus information can provide fitness advantages. Without environmental cues, an organism can reduce the risks of environmental uncertainty by hedging its bets across different scenarios. Risk mitigation is then possible by adopting a life-history of bet-hedging, either randomly switching between phenotypes (diversifying bet-hedging) or adopting intermediate phenotypes (conservative bet-hedging). Hence, understanding patterns of bet-hedging is necessary in order to quantify the fitness benefit of environmental cues, since it provides a baseline fitness in the absence of informative cues. Quantifying fitness benefits in terms of mutual information reveals deep connections between Darwinian evolution and information theory. However, physiological constraints or complex ecological scenarios often lead to the number of environmental states to exceed that of potential phenotypes, or a single intermediate phenotype is adopted, as in the case of conservative bet-hedging. Incorporating these biological complexities, we generalise the relationship between information theory and Darwinian fitness. Sophisticated bet-hedging strategies combining diversifying and conservative bet-hedging - can then evolve. We show that, counterintuitively, environmental complexity can reduce, rather than increase, the number of phenotypes that an organism can adopt. In conclusion, we develop an information-theoretic extensible approach for investigating and quantifying fitness in ecological studies.