Fitness costs in spatially structured environments
The clustering of individuals that results from limited dispersal is a double-edged sword: while it allows for local interactions to be mostly among related individuals, it also results in increased local competition. Here I show that, because they mitigate local competition, fitness costs such as reduced fecundity or reduced survival are less costly in spatially structured environments than in non spatial settings. I first present a simple demographic example to illustrate how spatial structure weakens selection against fitness costs. Then, I illustrate the importance of disentangling the evolution of a trait from the evolution of potential associated costs, using an example taken from a recent study investigating the effect of spatial structure on the evolution of host defence. In this example indeed, the differences between spatial and non-spatial selection gradients are entirely due to differences in the fitness costs, thereby undermining interpretations of the results made in terms of the trait only. This illustrates the need to consider fitness costs as proper traits in both theoretical and empirical studies.