Plasticity leaves a phenotypic signature during local adaptation

Reinder Radersma, Daniel W.A. Noble, Tobias Uller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Phenotypic responses to a novel or extreme environment are initially plastic, only later to be followed by genetic change. Whether or not environmentally induced phenotypes are sufficiently recurrent and fit to leave a signature in adaptive evolution is debated. Here, we analyze multivariate data from 34 plant reciprocal transplant studies to test: (1) if plasticity is an adaptive source of developmental bias that makes locally adapted populations resemble the environmentally induced phenotypes of ancestors; and (2) if plasticity, standing phenotypic variation and genetic divergence align during local adaptation. Phenotypic variation increased marginally in foreign environments but, as predicted, the direction of ancestral plasticity was generally well aligned with the phenotypic difference between locally adapted populations, making plasticity appear to "take the lead" in adaptive evolution. Plastic responses were sometimes more extreme than the phenotypes of locally adapted plants, which can give the impression that plasticity and evolutionary adaptation oppose each other; however, environmentally induced and locally adapted phenotypes were rarely misaligned. Adaptive fine‐tuning of phenotypes—genetic accommodation—did not fall along the main axis of standing phenotypic variation or the direction of plasticity, and local adaptation did not consistently modify the direction or magnitude of plasticity. These results suggest that plasticity is a persistent source of developmental bias that shapes how plant populations adapt to environmental change, even when plasticity does not constrain how populations respond to selection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-370
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

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