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Environmental change is inevitable so you’d better be plastic

03
Mar 2019
Jennifer Donelson

Posted By

Jennifer Donelson

With the Anthropocene well and truly upon us and causing rapid shifts in environmental conditions, biologists are striving to understand whether animals and plants can adapt quickly enough to avoid extinction. Phenotypic plasticity, the ability of one genotype to express varying phenotypes when exposed to different environmental conditions, is often hailed as a rapid-response mechanism that will enable organisms to adapt and survive in our rapidly changing world. But plasticity can also hinder adaptation by shifting the variety of phenotypes in the population, shielding it from natural selection. In addition to which, not all plastic responses are adaptive.

The theme issue, recently published in Philosophical Transactions B entitled ‘The role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change’, by Guest Editors Jennifer Donelson, Juan Gaitán-Espitia, Rebecca Fox, Celia Schunter and Timothy Ravasi, explores the role phenotypic plasticity can play in response to rapid environmental change. Papers within the issue highlight the importance of the past in shaping future responses, including through transgenerational effects and local adaptation, as well as the need to look across populations to understand species persistence to future change. Also an important topic emphasised in the issue, which is often overlooked, is sexual selection. It is well and good to be highly plastic to environmental change, but may not matter if no one wants to mate with you.

If you want to read more see the full blog here on The Royal Society website.

Check out the theme issue, here.

Damien Veal’s cover image for the theme issue. Pawns navigating the game of environmental change: there are a number of ways to travel through the layers – via phenotypic plasticity or adaptation, or both.
Damien Veal’s cover image for the theme issue. Pawns navigating the game of environmental change: there are a number of ways to travel through the layers – via phenotypic plasticity or adaptation, or both.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au