Developmental plasticity and evolutionary explanations

Tobias Uller, Nathalie Feiner, Reinder Radersma, Illiam S C Jackson, Alfredo Rago

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Developmental plasticity looks like a promising bridge between ecological and developmental perspectives on evolution. Yet, there is no consensus on whether plasticity is part of the explanation for adaptive evolution or an optional "add-on" to genes and natural selection. Here, we suggest that these differences in opinion are caused by differences in the simplifying assumptions, and particular idealizations, that enable evolutionary explanation. We outline why idealizations designed to explain evolution through natural selection prevent an understanding of the role of development, and vice versa. We show that representing plasticity as a reaction norm conforms with the idealizations of selective explanations, which can give the false impression that plasticity has no explanatory power for adaptive evolution. Finally, we use examples to illustrate why evolutionary explanations that include developmental plasticity may in fact be more satisfactory than explanations that solely refer to genes and natural selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-55
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution & Development
Issue number1-2
Early online date2019 Sept 19
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology


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