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Nat Commun. 2018 Mar 8;9(1):1005. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03384-9.

Strong phenotypic plasticity limits potential for evolutionary responses to climate change.

Author information

1
Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, The Darwin Building, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK. v.oostra@ucl.ac.uk.
2
Department of Plant Sciences, Laboratory of Genetics, Wageningen University, PO Box 16, 6700AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands. v.oostra@ucl.ac.uk.
3
Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65, Helsinki, FI-00014, Finland.
4
Department of Plant Sciences, Laboratory of Genetics, Wageningen University, PO Box 16, 6700AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
5
Department of Zoology, Population Genetics, Stockholm University, S-10691, Stockholm, Sweden.

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity, the expression of multiple phenotypes from one genome, is a widespread adaptation to short-term environmental fluctuations, but whether it facilitates evolutionary adaptation to climate change remains contentious. Here, we investigate seasonal plasticity and adaptive potential in an Afrotropical butterfly expressing distinct phenotypes in dry and wet seasons. We assess the transcriptional architecture of plasticity in a full-factorial analysis of heritable and environmental effects across 72 individuals, and reveal pervasive gene expression differences between the seasonal phenotypes. Strikingly, intra-population genetic variation for plasticity is largely absent, consistent with specialisation to a particular environmental cue reliably predicting seasonal transitions. Under climate change, deteriorating accuracy of predictive cues will likely aggravate maladaptive phenotype-environment mismatches and increase selective pressures on reaction norms. However, the observed paucity of genetic variation for plasticity limits evolutionary responses, potentially weakening prospects for population persistence. Thus, seasonally plastic species may be especially vulnerable to climate change.

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