Adaptive developmental plasticity: Compartmentalized responses to environmental cues and corresponding internal signals provide phenotypic flexibility

A.R.A. Mateus, M. Marques-Pita, V. Oostra, E. Lafuente, P.M. Brakefield, B.J. Zwaan, P. Beldade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Background The environmental regulation of development can result in the production of distinct phenotypes from the same genotype and provide the means for organisms to cope with environmental heterogeneity. The effect of the environment on developmental outcomes is typically mediated by hormonal signals which convey information about external cues to the developing tissues. While such plasticity is a wide-spread property of development, not all developing tissues are equally plastic. To understand how organisms integrate environmental input into coherent adult phenotypes, we must know how different body parts respond, independently or in concert, to external cues and to the corresponding internal signals. Results We quantified the effect of temperature and ecdysone hormone manipulations on post-growth tissue patterning in an experimental model of adaptive developmental plasticity, the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. Following a suite of traits evolving by natural or sexual selection, we found that different groups of cells within the same tissue have sensitivities and patterns of response that are surprisingly distinct for the external environmental cue and for the internal hormonal signal. All but those wing traits presumably involved in mate choice responded to developmental temperature and, of those, all but the wing traits not exposed to predators responded to hormone manipulations. On the other hand, while patterns of significant response to temperature contrasted traits on autonomously-developing wings, significant response to hormone manipulations contrasted neighboring groups of cells with distinct color fates. We also showed that the spatial compartmentalization of these responses cannot be explained by the spatial or temporal compartmentalization of the hormone receptor protein. Conclusions Our results unravel the integration of different aspects of the adult phenotype into developmental and functional units which both reflect and impact evolutionary change. Importantly, our findings underscore the complexity of the interactions between environment and physiology in shaping the development of different body parts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number97
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • butterfly bicyclus-anynana
  • color pattern
  • wing patterns
  • distal-less
  • evo-devo
  • evolution
  • size
  • lepidoptera
  • integration
  • eyespots


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