Overcoming maladaptive plasticity through plastic compensation


Matthew R. J. Morris and Sean M. Rogers


Current Zoology (formerly Acta Zoologica Sinica) 59(4):526-536; 2013


Most species evolve within fluctuating environments, and have developed adaptations to meet the challenges posed by environmental heterogeneity. One such adaptation is phenotypic plasticity, or the ability of a single genotype to produce multiple environmentally-induced phenotypes. Yet, not all plasticity is adaptive. Despite the renewed interest in adaptive phenotypic plasticity and its consequences for evolution, much less is known about maladaptive plasticity. However, maladaptive plasticity is likely an important driver of phenotypic similarity among populations living in different environments. This paper traces four strategies for overcoming maladaptive plasticity that result in phenotypic similarity, two of which involve genetic changes (standing genetic variation, genetic compensation) and two of which do not (standing epigenetic variation, plastic compensation). Plastic compensation is defined as adaptive plasticity overcoming maladaptive plasticity. In particular, plastic compensation may increase the likelihood of genetic compensation by facilitating population persistence. We provide key terms to disentangle these aspects of phenotypic plasticity and introduce examples to reinforce the potential importance of plastic compensation for understanding evolutionary change.