Adaptive responses to autocorrelated environmental fluctuations through evolution in mean reaction norm elevation and slope and an independent component of the phenotypic variance are analyzed using a quantitative genetic model. Analytic approximations expressing the mutual dependencies between all three response modes are derived and solved for the joint evolutionary outcome. Both genetic evolution in reaction norm elevation and plasticity are favored by slow temporal fluctuations, with plasticity, in the absence of microenvironmental variability, being the dominant evolutionary outcome for reasonable parameter values. For fast fluctuations, tracking of the optimal phenotype through genetic evolution and plasticity is limited. If residual fluctuations in the optimal phenotype are large and stabilizing selection is strong, selection then acts to increase the phenotypic variance (bet-hedging adaptive). Otherwise, canalizing selection occurs. If the phenotypic variance increases with plasticity through the effect of microenvironmental variability, this shifts the joint evolutionary balance away from plasticity in favor of genetic evolution. If microenvironmental deviations experienced by each individual at the time of development and selection are correlated, however, more plasticity evolves. The adaptive significance of evolutionary fluctuations in plasticity and the phenotypic variance, transient evolution, and the validity of the analytic approximations are investigated using simulations.
Keywords: Developmental instability; microenvironmental variability; norm of reaction; phenotypic variance.
© 2015 The Author(s). Evolution © 2015 The Society for the Study of Evolution.