Natural selection and the predictability of evolution in Timema stick insects.

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Predicting evolution remains difficult. We studied the evolution of cryptic body coloration and pattern in a stick insect using 25 years of field data, experiments, and genomics. We found that evolution is more difficult to predict when it involves a balance between multiple selective factors and uncertainty in environmental conditions than when it involves feedback loops that cause consistent back-and-forth fluctuations. Specifically, changes in color-morph frequencies are modestly predictable through time (r2 = 0.14) and driven by complex selective regimes and yearly fluctuations in climate. In contrast, temporal changes in pattern-morph frequencies are highly predictable due to negative frequency-dependent selection (r2 = 0.86). For both traits, however, natural selection drives evolution around a dynamic equilibrium, providing some predictability to the process.