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Genetics. 2005 Jul;170(3):1359-71. Epub 2005 May 23.

Evolutionary capacitance may be favored by natural selection.

Author information

  • Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA. masel@u.arizona.edu


Evolutionary capacitors phenotypically reveal a stock of cryptic genetic variation in a reversible fashion. The sudden and reversible revelation of a range of variation is fundamentally different from the gradual introduction of variation by mutation. Here I study the invasion dynamics of modifiers of revelation. A modifier with the optimal rate of revelation mopt has a higher probability of invading any other population than of being counterinvaded. mopt varies with the population size N and the rate theta at which environmental change makes revelation adaptive. For small populations less than a minimum cutoff Nmin, all revelation is selected against. Nmin is typically quite small and increases only weakly, with theta-1/2. For large populations with N>1/theta, mopt is approximately 1/N. Selection for the optimum is highly effective and increases in effectiveness with larger N>>1/theta. For intermediate values of N, mopt is typically a little less than theta and is only weakly favored over less frequent revelation. The model is analogous to a two-locus model for the evolution of a mutator allele. It is a fully stochastic model and so is able to show that selection for revelation can be strong enough to overcome random drift.

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