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The genetics of phenotypic plasticity. XII. Temporal and spatial heterogeneity.

Abstract

To understand empirical patterns of phenotypic plasticity, we need to explore the complexities of environmental heterogeneity and how it interacts with cue reliability. I consider both temporal and spatial variation separately and in combination, the timing of temporal variation relative to development, the timing of movement relative to selection, and two different patterns of movement: stepping-stone and island. Among-generation temporal heterogeneity favors plasticity, while within-generation heterogeneity can result in cue unreliability. In general, spatial variation more strongly favors plasticity than temporal variation, and island migration more strongly favors plasticity than stepping-stone migration. Negative correlations among environments between the time of development and selection can result in seemingly maladaptive reaction norms. The effects of higher dispersal rates depend on the life history stage when dispersal occurs and the pattern of environmental heterogeneity. Thus, patterns of environmental heterogeneity can be complex and can interact in unforeseen ways to affect cue reliability. Proper interpretation of patterns of trait plasticity requires consideration of the ecology and biology of the organism. More information on actual cue reliability and the ecological and developmental context of trait plasticity is needed.

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