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      Key Questions on the Role of Phenotypic Plasticity in Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics.

      The Journal of heredity
      Oxford University Press (OUP)
      rapid evolution., adaptation, adaptive divergence, community structure, contemporary evolution, ecosystem function, heritability, population dynamics

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          Abstract

          Ecology and evolution have long been recognized as reciprocally influencing each other, with recent research emphasizing how such interactions can occur even on very short (contemporary) time scales. Given that these interactions are mediated by organismal phenotypes, they can be variously shaped by genetic variation, phenotypic plasticity, or both. I here address 8 key questions relevant to the role of plasticity in eco-evolutionary dynamics. Focusing on empirical evidence, especially from natural populations, I offer the following conclusions. 1) Plasticity is--not surprisingly--sometimes adaptive, sometimes maladaptive, and sometimes neutral. 2) Plasticity has costs and limits but these constraints are highly variable, often weak, and hard to detect. 3) Variable environments favor the evolution of increased trait plasticity, which can then buffer fitness/performance (i.e., tolerance). 4) Plasticity sometimes aids colonization of new environments (Baldwin Effect) and responses to in situ environmental change. However, plastic responses are not always necessary or sufficient in these contexts. 5) Plasticity will sometimes promote and sometimes constrain genetic evolution. 6) Plasticity will sometimes help and sometimes hinder ecological speciation but, at present, empirical tests are limited. 7) Plasticity can show considerable evolutionary change in contemporary time, although the rates of this reaction norm evolution are highly variable among taxa and traits. 8) Plasticity appears to have considerable influences on ecological dynamics at the community and ecosystem levels, although many more studies are needed. In summary, plasticity needs to be an integral part of any conceptual framework and empirical investigation of eco-evolutionary dynamics.

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