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      Adaptation, Plasticity, and Extinction in a Changing Environment: Towards a Predictive Theory

      1 , * , 1 , 2
      PLoS Biology
      Public Library of Science

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          The authors analyze developmental, genetic, and demographic mechanisms by which populations tolerate changing environments and discuss empirical methods for determining the critical rate of sustained environmental change that causes population extinction.

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          Most cited references20

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          The strength of phenotypic selection in natural populations.

          How strong is phenotypic selection on quantitative traits in the wild? We reviewed the literature from 1984 through 1997 for studies that estimated the strength of linear and quadratic selection in terms of standardized selection gradients or differentials on natural variation in quantitative traits for field populations. We tabulated 63 published studies of 62 species that reported over 2,500 estimates of linear or quadratic selection. More than 80% of the estimates were for morphological traits; there is very little data for behavioral or physiological traits. Most published selection studies were unreplicated and had sample sizes below 135 individuals, resulting in low statistical power to detect selection of the magnitude typically reported for natural populations. The absolute values of linear selection gradients |beta| were exponentially distributed with an overall median of 0.16, suggesting that strong directional selection was uncommon. The values of |beta| for selection on morphological and on life-history/phenological traits were significantly different: on average, selection on morphology was stronger than selection on phenology/life history. Similarly, the values of |beta| for selection via aspects of survival, fecundity, and mating success were significantly different: on average, selection on mating success was stronger than on survival. Comparisons of estimated linear selection gradients and differentials suggest that indirect components of phenotypic selection were usually modest relative to direct components. The absolute values of quadratic selection gradients |gamma| were exponentially distributed with an overall median of only 0.10, suggesting that quadratic selection is typically quite weak. The distribution of gamma values was symmetric about 0, providing no evidence that stabilizing selection is stronger or more common than disruptive selection in nature.
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            Climate change and evolution: disentangling environmental and genetic responses.

            Rapid climate change is likely to impose strong selection pressures on traits important for fitness, and therefore, microevolution in response to climate-mediated selection is potentially an important mechanism mitigating negative consequences of climate change. We reviewed the empirical evidence for recent microevolutionary responses to climate change in longitudinal studies emphasizing the following three perspectives emerging from the published data. First, although signatures of climate change are clearly visible in many ecological processes, similar examples of microevolutionary responses in literature are in fact very rare. Second, the quality of evidence for microevolutionary responses to climate change is far from satisfactory as the documented responses are often - if not typically - based on nongenetic data. We reinforce the view that it is as important to make the distinction between genetic (evolutionary) and phenotypic (includes a nongenetic, plastic component) responses clear, as it is to understand the relative roles of plasticity and genetics in adaptation to climate change. Third, in order to illustrate the difficulties and their potential ubiquity in detection of microevolution in response to natural selection, we reviewed the quantitative genetic studies on microevolutionary responses to natural selection in the context of long-term studies of vertebrates. The available evidence points to the overall conclusion that many responses perceived as adaptations to changing environmental conditions could be environmentally induced plastic responses rather than microevolutionary adaptations. Hence, clear-cut evidence indicating a significant role for evolutionary adaptation to ongoing climate warming is conspicuously scarce.
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              Adaptation to an extraordinary environment by evolution of phenotypic plasticity and genetic assimilation.

              Adaptation to a sudden extreme change in environment, beyond the usual range of background environmental fluctuations, is analysed using a quantitative genetic model of phenotypic plasticity. Generations are discrete, with time lag tau between a critical period for environmental influence on individual development and natural selection on adult phenotypes. The optimum phenotype, and genotypic norms of reaction, are linear functions of the environment. Reaction norm elevation and slope (plasticity) vary among genotypes. Initially, in the average background environment, the character is canalized with minimum genetic and phenotypic variance, and no correlation between reaction norm elevation and slope. The optimal plasticity is proportional to the predictability of environmental fluctuations over time lag tau. During the first generation in the new environment the mean fitness suddenly drops and the mean phenotype jumps towards the new optimum phenotype by plasticity. Subsequent adaptation occurs in two phases. Rapid evolution of increased plasticity allows the mean phenotype to closely approach the new optimum. The new phenotype then undergoes slow genetic assimilation, with reduction in plasticity compensated by genetic evolution of reaction norm elevation in the original environment.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                April 2010
                April 2010
                27 April 2010
                : 8
                : 4
                : e1000357
                [1 ]Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, United Kingdom
                [2 ]Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park, United Kingdom
                The University of North Carolina, United States of America
                Author notes

                Essays articulate a specific perspective on a topic of broad interest to scientists.

                Chevin et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Ecology/Global Change Ecology
                Evolutionary Biology/Evolutionary Ecology

                Life sciences
                Life sciences


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