Plastic responses to novel environments are biased towards phenotype dimensions with high additive genetic variation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Environmentally induced phenotypes have been proposed to initiate and bias adaptive evolutionary change toward particular directions. The potential for this to happen depends in part on how well plastic responses are aligned with the additive genetic variance and covariance in traits. Using meta-analysis, we demonstrate that plastic responses to novel environments tend to occur along phenotype dimensions that harbor substantial amounts of additive genetic variation. This suggests that selection for or against environmentally induced phenotypes typically will be effective. One interpretation of the alignment between the direction of plasticity and the main axis of additive genetic variation is that developmental systems tend to respond to environmental novelty as they do to genetic mutation. This makes it challenging to distinguish if the direction of evolution is biased by plasticity or genetic “constraint.” Our results therefore highlight a need for new theoretical and empirical approaches to address the role of plasticity in evolution.


External organisations
  • Australian National University
  • University of New South Wales
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Cryptic genetic, Evolvability, Phenotypic accommodation, Phenotypic plasticity, Variation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13452-13461
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch