Graduate Fellow

Distinguishing trait value and trait plasticity in the evolution of reaction norms

PI(s): Sarah Seiter (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)
Start Date: 23-Aug-2010
End Date: 10-Dec-2010
Keywords: phenotypic plasticity, evolutionary theory, meta-analysis, life histories, population ecology

Theory predicts that phenotypic plasticity should be accompanied by inherent fitness costs that stem from the ability to detect and respond to changes in the environment. Yet most studies of costs of plasticity (CoP) have failed to detect them. It has been widely assumed that the plasticity of a genotype is independent of the mean trait value of a genotype; however recent studies imply that there may actually be a positive correlation between mean trait value and plasticity. If plasticity and mean trait value are correlated, researchers may be unable to distinguish selection on trait value from selection on plasticity, and may also therefore fail to detect CoP. I am currently participating in the NESCent working group on Costs of Plasticity and Adaptation to Novel Environments, whose goals include assessing whether current analytical approaches are appropriate for detecting CoP. By testing one of the underlying assumptions in analysis of CoP, I will contribute to the goals of the working group, and group members and other NESCent researchers will be an unparalleled resource for feedback and mentorship.