On the evolution of phenotypic plasticity in a spatially heterogeneous environment

Lev A. Zhivotovsky, Marcus W. Feldman, Aviv Bergman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


A genetic model for the dynamics of a quantitative trait is analyzed in terms of gene frequencies, linkage disequilibria, and environmental effects on the trait. In a randomly mating population, at each generation progeny move to niches where they are subject to weak Gaussian selection on the trait, with different fitness levels in the different niches. Initially, the variability of the trait is due to additive loci with heterozygous homeostasis. The evolution of plasticity is then described in terms of the invasion of the population by genetic modifiers that may epistatically affect the trait, its optimum in each niche, the strengths of selection, and other parameters characteristic of the niches. We show that the evolution of trait means within niches depends on the overall evolution in the whole system, and in general, optimum phenotypic values are not attained. The reaction norm and genotype-environment interaction may evolve even if the only effects of the modifier are on individual rates of dispersal, or on fitness effects resulting from the different environments in the different niches; this evolution does not require that the modifier affect parameters that influence the values of the trait. It is conjectured that in the least frequently reached niches with low fitness levels, the deviations from the trait optima should be larger than those in more commonly experienced and less stringent niches. Our analysis makes explicit the different contribution of between- and within-niche effects on the evolutionary dynamics of phenotypic plasticity in heterogeneous environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-558
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolutionary dynamics
  • Heterogeneous environments
  • Multiple loci
  • Reaction norm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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