The rate of change in selective pressures is one of the main factors that determines the likelihood that populations can adapt to stress conditions. Generally, the reduction in the population size that accompanies abrupt environmental changes makes it difficult to generate and select adaptive mutations. However, in systems with high genetic diversity, as happens in RNA viruses, mutations with beneficial effects under new conditions can already be present in the population, facilitating adaptation. In this work, we have propagated an RNA bacteriophage (Qβ) at temperatures higher than the optimum, following different patterns of change. We have determined the fitness values and the consensus sequences of all lineages throughout the evolutionary process in order to establish correspondences between fitness variations and adaptive pathways. Our results show that populations subjected to a sudden temperature change gain fitness and fix mutations faster than those subjected to gradual changes, differing also in the particular selected mutations. The life-history of populations prior to the environmental change has great importance in the dynamics of adaptation. The conclusion is that in the bacteriophage Qβ, the standing genetic diversity together with the rate of temperature change determine both the rapidity of adaptation and the followed evolutionary pathways.
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