Gabriel, Wilfried and Luttbeg, Barney and Sih, Andrew and Tollrian, Ralph (2005) Environmental tolerance, heterogeneity, and the evolution of reversible plastic responses. The American Naturalist, 166 (3). pp. 339-353. ISSN 0003-0147
Phenotypic plasticity is a key factor for the success of organisms in heterogeneous environments. Although many forms of phenotypic plasticity can be induced and retracted repeatedly, few extant models have analyzed conditions for the evolution of reversible plasticity. We present a general model of reversible plasticity to examine how plastic shifts in the mode and breadth of environmental tolerance functions (that determine relative fitness) depend on time lags in response to environmental change, the pattern of individual exposure to inducing and noninducing environments, and the quality of available information about the environment. We couched the model in terms of prey-induced responses to variable predation regimes. With longer response lags relative to the rate of environmental change, the modes of tolerance functions in both the presence or absence of predators converge on a generalist strategy that lies intermediate between the optimal functions for the two environments in the absence of response lags. Incomplete information about the level of predation risk in inducing environments causes prey to have broader tolerance functions even at the cost of reduced maximal fitness. We give a detailed analysis of how these factors and interactions among them select for joint patterns of mode and breadth plasticity.
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