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Linking the Spatial Scale of Environmental Variation and the Evolution of Phenotypic Plasticity: Selection Favors Adaptive Plasticity in Fine-Grained Environments

Brooke S. Baythavong
The American Naturalist
Vol. 178, No. 1 (July 2011), pp. 75-87
DOI: 10.1086/660281
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660281
Page Count: 13
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Linking the Spatial Scale of Environmental Variation and the Evolution of Phenotypic Plasticity: Selection Favors Adaptive Plasticity in Fine-Grained Environments
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Abstract

AbstractAdaptive phenotypic plasticity and adaptive genetic differentiation enable plant lineages to maximize their fitness in response to environmental heterogeneity. The spatial scale of environmental variation relative to the average dispersal distance of a species determines whether selection will favor plasticity, local adaptation, or an intermediate strategy. Habitats where the spatial scale of environmental variation is less than the dispersal distance of a species are fine grained and should favor the expression of adaptive plasticity, while coarse-grained habitats, where environmental variation occurs on spatial scales greater than dispersal, should favor adaptive genetic differentiation. However, there is relatively little information available characterizing the link between the spatial scale of environmental variation and patterns of selection on plasticity measured in the field. I examined patterns of spatial environmental variation within a serpentine mosaic grassland and selection on an annual plant (Erodium cicutarium) within that landscape. Results indicate that serpentine soil patches are a significantly finer-grained habitat than non-serpentine patches. Additionally, selection generally favored increased plasticity on serpentine soils and diminished plasticity on non-serpentine soils. This is the first empirical example of differential selection for phenotypic plasticity in the field as a result of strong differences in the grain of environmental heterogeneity within habitats.

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