Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Am Nat. 2009 May;173(5):615-31. doi: 10.1086/597609.

Patterns of phenotypic plasticity in common and rare environments: a study of host use and color learning in the cabbage white butterfly Pieris rapae.

Author information

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA.


Phenotypic plasticity is adaptive in variable environments but, given its costs, may be disfavored if only one environment is commonly encountered. Yet species in relatively constant environments often adjust phenotypes successfully in rare or novel environments. Developmental biases may reduce the costs of plasticity in common environments, favoring the maintenance of plasticity. We explored this proposition by studying the flexibility of visually guided host-selection behavior in cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae), wherein common and rare environments consisted of green and red host types, respectively. We demonstrated in greenhouse assays that adult females display an innate bias toward green color during host search but alter that bias through learning in red-host assemblages such that, after several hours of experience, red hosts are located as efficiently as green hosts. Full-sib analyses suggested there was genetic variation in host and color choice that was more pronounced in the red-host environment. We found no evidence of genetic correlations in behavior across host environments or of fitness costs of plasticity in color choice. Our results support the idea that learning may persist in less variable environments through the evolution of innate biases that reduce operating costs in common environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for University of Chicago Press
    Loading ...
    Support Center