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New Phytol. 2007;176(4):874-82.

Constraints on the evolution of adaptive plasticity: costs of plasticity to density are expressed in segregating progenies.

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Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota, St Paul 55108, USA.


Phenotypic plasticity, the ability of a genotype to express different phenotypes across environments, is an adaptive strategy expected to evolve in heterogeneous environments. One widely held hypothesis is that the evolutionary benefits of plasticity are reduced by its costs, but when compared with the number of traits tested, the evidence for costs is limited. Selection gradients were calculated for traits and trait plasticities to test for costs of plasticity to density in a field study using recombinant inbred lines (RILs) of Brassica rapa. Significant costs of putatively adaptive plasticity were found in three out of six measured traits. For one trait, petiole length, a cost of plasticity was detected in both environments tested; such global costs are expected to more strongly constrain the evolution of plasticity than local costs expressed in a single environment. These results, in combination with evidence from studies in segregating progenies of Arabidopsis thaliana, suggest that the potential for genetic costs of plasticity exists in natural populations. Detection of costs in previous studies may have been limited because historical selection has purged genotypes with costly plasticity, and experimental conditions often lack environmental stresses.

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