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Adaptive developmental plasticity: what is it, how can we recognize it and when can it evolve?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD


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Developmental plasticity describes situations where a specific input during an individual's development produces a lasting alteration in phenotype. Some instances of developmental plasticity may be adaptive, meaning that the tendency to produce the phenotype conditional on having experienced the developmental input has been under positive selection. We discuss the necessary assumptions and predictions of hypotheses concerning adaptive developmental plasticity (ADP) and develop guidelines for how to test empirically whether a particular example is adaptive. Central to our analysis is the distinction between two kinds of ADP: informational, where the developmental input provides information about the future environment, and somatic state-based, where the developmental input enduringly alters some aspect of the individual's somatic state. Both types are likely to exist in nature, but evolve under different conditions. In all cases of ADP, the expected fitness of individuals who experience the input and develop the phenotype should be higher than that of those who experience the input and do not develop the phenotype, while the expected fitness of those who do not experience the input and do not develop the phenotype should be higher than those who do not experience the input and do develop the phenotype. We describe ancillary predictions that are specific to just one of the two types of ADP and thus distinguish between them.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2015

Volume: 282

Issue: 1812

Pages: 23-31

Print publication date: 01/08/2015

Online publication date: 22/07/2015

Acceptance date: 24/06/2015

ISSN (print): 0962-8452

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2954

Publisher: ROYAL SOC


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1005