, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 125-135
Date: 16 Aug 2007

Environmental and genetic cues in the evolution of phenotypic polymorphism

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Abstract

Phenotypic polymorphism is a consequence of developmental plasticity, in which the trajectories of developing organisms diverge under the influence of cues. Environmental and genetic phenotype determination are the two main categories of polymorphic development. Even though both may evolve as a response to varied environments, they are traditionally regarded as fundamentally distinct phenomena. They can however be joined into a single framework that emphasizes the parallel roles of environmental and genetic cues in phenotype determination. First, from the point of view of immediate causation, it is common that phenotypic variants can be induced either by environmental or by allelic variation, and this is referred to as gene-environment interchangeability. Second, from the point of view of adaptation, genetic cues in the form of allelic variation at polymorphic loci can play similar roles as environmental cues in providing information to the developmental system about coming selective conditions. Both types of cues can help a developing organism to fit its phenotype to selective circumstances. This perspective of information in environmental and genetic cues can produce testable hypotheses about phenotype determination, and can thus increase our understanding of the evolution of phenotypic polymorphism.