A new perspective on developmental plasticity and the principles of adaptive morph determination

Am Nat. 2006 Mar;167(3):367-76. doi: 10.1086/499566. Epub 2006 Jan 9.


Organisms can have divergent paths of development leading to alternative phenotypes, or morphs. The choice of developmental path may be set by environmental cues, the individual's genotype, or a combination of the two. Using individual-based simulation and analytical investigation, we explore the idea that from the viewpoint of a developmental switch, genetic morph determination can sometimes be regarded as adaptive developmental plasticity. We compare the possibilities for the evolution of environmental and genetic morph determination and combinations of the two in situations with spatial variation in conditions. We find that the accuracy of environmental cues in predicting coming selective conditions is important for environmental morph determination, in accordance with previous results, and that genetic morph determination is favored in a similar way by the accuracy of genetic cues, in the form of selectively maintained gene frequency differences between local populations. Restricted gene flow and strong selection acting on the phenotypic alternatives produce clearer gene frequency differences and lead to greater accuracy of genetic cues. For combined environmental and genetic morph determination, we show that the developmental machinery can evolve toward efficiently combining information in environmental and genetic cues for the purpose of predicting coming selective conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Environment
  • Gene Flow
  • Gene Frequency
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phenotype*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Selection, Genetic