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Information for Researchers No. 33 | 6 June 2014
Priority Programme “Rapid Evolutionary Adaptation: Potential and Constraints” (SPP 1819)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established the Priority Programme “Rapid Evolutionary Adaptation: Potential and Constraints” (SPP 1819). The programme is designed to run for six years.

The vast diversity of life on earth is the result of evolutionary processes that acted for billions of years. Consequently, it is often assumed that evolution requires long periods of time. Evolutionary adaptation to new environments as driven by natural selection can, however, occur very rapidly within tens of generations. This raises two questions: (1) What are the mechanisms of rapid adaptation? (2) Which factors enable and which factors prevent rapid adaptation? The Priority Programme addresses these questions by combining new developments in evolutionary theory with empirical investigations of rapidly adapting and experimentally tractable systems of animals, plants, eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms. The research programme will reveal insights about possible consequences of human-induced global change for future perspectives of biodiversity and the adaptive potential of natural and cultivated species.

Research projects in this programme have a strong foundation in theoretical population genetics and evolutionary biology, which will be the unifying concept to bridge theoretical and empirical studies of phenotypic and genetic evolution. The first objective of this Priority Programme is to investigate whether the potential for rapid adaptation is predominately dependent on the selective fixation of new mutations (hard selective sweeps) or changes in allele frequencies of standing genetic variation (soft selective sweeps). The second objective is the identification and investigation of factors that constrain rapid adaptation such as phenotypic plasticity, demographic changes (e.g. of population size), genetic and genomic architecture, or environmental heterogeneity.

To bridge the gap between theoretical and empirical research, research projects will combine theoretical approaches with empirical studies of suitable taxa. Theoretical methods include coalescence theory or other population genetic models, as well as quantitative genetic, demographic or ecological modelling. Empirical studies are based on state-of-the art genomic and phenotypic analyses of laboratory experiments, field trials or natural populations. By combining theoretical analyses with empirical studies, this programme takes advantage of the rapid development of genome sequencing technology and will move research beyond the descriptive analysis of genomic variation towards a detailed understanding of evolutionary processes.

Each research project in the Priority Programme will belong to at least one of the following four thematic groups:

  • population genetic and ecological theory of rapid adaptation
  • phenotypic evolution and rapid adaptation: plasticity versus genetic responses
  • genomic sources of adaptive variation for rapid change
  • co-adaptation of interacting species

Projects in the first group develop theoretical models of rapid adaptation for individual and interacting species and will implement statistical tests of the extent and type of selection occurring in rapidly adapting systems. Models and tests will be applied to data originating in other projects of the Priority Programme or to publicly available data. The other groups focus on the phenotypic, genomic or co-evolutionary factors associated with rapid adaptation and conduct empirical studies, which need to have a strong foundation in evolutionary theory and derived hypotheses.

Suitable study systems are single or interacting species of animals, plants, eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms with already established evidence of very recent or ongoing rapid adaptation within few tens of generations or which are amenable to experimental evolution. The study systems are accessible to phenotypic characterisation, genomic analysis and hypothesis testing in laboratory experiments, controlled field trials, or natural environments. Examples for interacting species include plant or animal hosts and their pathogens, and predator-prey systems. The Priority Programme does not fund projects that are purely descriptive or investigate rapid evolution in the distant past (i.e., species radiations). It focusses on naturally occurring genetic variation and does not include systems with experimentally altered mutations or mutation rates. Adaptation is defined in an evolutionary context, and purely plastic responses to environmental changes without any heritable component are not in the focus of this programme.

Project applications can be submitted by individual researchers or as joint projects that typically involve two groups which combine expertise in theoretical analysis and empirical studies.

Research proposals for the first three-year funding period are now invited and can be submitted by 24 October 2014 (deadline). All proposals should be submitted in English and follow the guidelines in DFG form 54.01 (Proposal Preparation Instructions – Project Proposals). Please include a title page with your name, your address, and the title of your project in your application.

Proposals must be submitted via the DFG’s electronic submission system elan, selecting “SPP 1819 Rapid Evolutionary Adaptation”. If you are using the elan system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional addresses before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a Temporary Position for Principal Investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

Please notice the rules for publication lists that have been modified recently: Beside the general bibliography every proposal should include a list of up to ten publications that relate directly to the project. Further the number of publications that may be listed in any academic CV has been increased to up to ten as well. These publications need to be classified as a) refereed publications (published articles and monographs; accepted articles with note of acceptance by the journal) or b) other publications.

The review process will most likely include a colloquium with talks and/or poster presentations tentatively scheduled to take place in Stuttgart in January 2015.

Further information

The DFG’s electronic portal “elan” can be found at:

Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in DFG forms 54.01en and 50.05en, part B, which can be found on the DFG’s website at:

Contact address for further information:

For scientific enquiries concerning the scope of the SPP, please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

For information on submitting proposals and related administrative enquiries, please contact: