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Am Nat. 2002 Aug;160(2):271-83. doi: 10.1086/341015.

Metapopulation structure favors plasticity over local adaptation.

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Department of Biology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 06459, USA.


We describe a model for the evolutionary consequences of plasticity in an environmentally heterogeneous metapopulation in which specialists for each of two alternative environments and one plastic type are initially present. The model is similar to that proposed by Moran (1992) but extends her work to two sites. We show that with migration between sites the plastic type is favored over local specialists across a broad range of parameter space. The plastic type may dominate or be fixed even in an environmentally uniform site, and even if the plasticity has imperfect accuracy or bears some cost such that a local specialist has higher fitness in that site, as long as there is some migration between sites with different distributions of environmental states. These results suggest that differences among taxa in dispersal and hence realized migration rates may play a heretofore unrecognized role in their patterns of adaptive population differentiation. Migration relaxes the thresholds for both environmental heterogeneity and accuracy of plastic response above which plasticity is favored. Furthermore, small changes in response accuracy can dramatically and abruptly alter the evolutionary outcome in the metapopulation. A fitness cost to plasticity will substantially reduce the range of conditions in which the plastic type will prevail only if the cost is both large and global rather than environment specific.

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