1st Edition

Phenotypic Plasticity & Evolution Causes, Consequences, Controversies

Edited By David W. Pfennig Copyright 2021
    436 Pages 34 Color & 29 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    436 Pages 34 Color & 29 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    Phenotypic plasticity – the ability of an individual organism to alter its features in direct response to a change in its environment – is ubiquitous. Understanding how and why this phenomenon exists is crucial because it unites all levels of biological inquiry. This book brings together researchers who approach plasticity from diverse perspectives to explore new ideas and recent findings about the causes and consequences of plasticity. Contributors also discuss such controversial topics as how plasticity shapes ecological and evolutionary processes; whether specific plastic responses can be passed to offspring; and whether plasticity has left an important imprint on the history of life. Importantly, each chapter highlights key questions for future research. Drawing on numerous studies of plasticity in natural populations of plants and animals, this book aims to foster greater appreciation for this important, but frequently misunderstood phenomenon.

    Key Features

    • Written in an accessible style with numerous illustrations, including many in color
    • Reviews the history of the study of plasticity, including Darwin’s views
    • Most chapters conclude with recommendations for future research

    Foreword: A Perspective on Plasticity

    Mary Jane West-Eberhard

    Preface and Acknowledgements

    David W. Pfennig


    Section I Plasticity & Evolution: Concepts & Questions

    Phenotypic Plasticity as an Intrinsic Property of Organisms

    Sonia E. Sultan

    "There is Hardly Any Question in Biology of More Importance"––Charles Darwin and the Nature of Variation

    James T. Costa

    Key Questions about Phenotypic Plasticity

    David W. Pfennig

    Section II Causes of Plasticity: From Genes to Ecology

    Genetic Variation in Phenotypic Plasticity

    Ilan Goldstein & Ian M. Ehrenreich

    Physiological Mechanisms and the Evolution of Plasticity

    Cristina C. Ledon-Rettig & Erik J. Ragsdale

    Ecology and the Evolution of Plasticity

    Emilie Snell-Rood & Sean Ehlman

    The Loss of Phenotypic Plasticity via Natural Selection: Genetic Assimilation

    Samuel M. Scheiner & Nicholas A. Levis

    Section III Consequences of Plasticity: Adaptation, Origination, Diversification

    Buying Time: Plasticity and Population Persistence

    Sarah E. Diamond & Ryan A. Martin

    Innovation and Diversification via Plasticity-led Evolution

    Nicholas A. Levis & David W. Pfennig

    Plasticity and Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality

    Dinah R. Davison & Richard E. Michod

    Phenotypic Plasticity in the Fossil Record

    Adrian M. Lister

    Section IV Plasticity & Evolution: Controversies & Consensus

    The Special Case of Behavioral Plasticity?

    Kathryn Chenard & Renee A. Duckworth

    Plasticity Across Generations

    Russell Bonduriansky

    How Does Phenotypic Plasticity Fit into Evolutionary Theory?

    Douglas J. Futuyma

    Plasticity and Evolutionary Theory: Where We Are and Where We Should be Going

    Carl D. Schlichting

    List of Contributors



    David W. Pfennig is a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer. He is broadly interested in evolutionary biology, ecology, behavior, and developmental biology and is author (with Karin Pfennig) of Evolution’s Wedge: Competition and the Origins of Diversity. His work has been featured on The National Geographic Channel, on the BBC/ PBS’s Nature series, and in The New York Times, Newsweek, National Geographic, Scientific American, New Scientist, and Discover, among other publications.

    "Anyone interested in the nature of living organisms and their adaptive evolution will be stimulated by reading this book."
    –– Mary Jane West-Eberhard (Foreword)


    "This authoritative compilation brings together top thinkers on phenotypic plasticity and synthesizes the many ways that it profoundly influences evolution. Plasticity has been too often dismissed as mere 'environmental noise,' but these chapters bring rich and diverse perspectives to one volume and explain how plasticity arises and how understanding plasticity is fundamental to understanding evolutionary patterns and processes."
    –– Mohamed Noor, Duke University


    "This book is ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in phenotypic plasticity. The editor and authors have done an excellent job as the treatment is bang up to date with a fully comprehensive coverage. In this era of major challenges from climate change, an understanding of the evolution and ecology of phenotypic plasticity has become ever more pressing and highly relevant to whether species will be able to cope with its consequences. The most valuable and attractive features of the book include an exceptionally thorough assessment of controversial ideas involving the genetics and evolution of plasticity and sections in each chapter entitled ‘suggestions for future research’."
    –– Paul Brakefield FRS, University of Cambridge, UK


    "This is a much needed book. This volume makes clear that nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of selectable variation, and that this variation arises through the alliances woven between genomic and environmental agents during development. This should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with mechanisms of evolution."

    –– Scott F. Gilbert, Swarthmore College

    "Bringing together leading theoretical and empirical scientists, this volume provides a comprehensive treatment of the mechanisms underlying phenotypic plasticity and how this knowledge illuminates our understanding of evolution. Among other triumphs, it fulfills the promise of genomics as an engine of discovery for mechanistic biology, evolutionary biology, and their integration. A most worthy successor to West-Eberhard’s Developmental Plasticity and Evolution."
    –– Gene E. Robinson, Department of Entomology and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    "The nature of phenotypic plasticity will undoubtedly have profound implications for both adaptation and conservation in the face of climate change and our ability to feed the human population. Pfennig and colleagues have produced a high-quality book that will spark many intriguing discussions for those who have the pleasure of reading it." 

    –– L. L. Surber & R. C. Fuller – In Evolution.

    "Phenotypic Plasticity and Evolution will be useful reading for students and researchers, being novel enough to provide valuable insights and ideas for newcomers to the topics and experts as well. In the end, more data and results on plasticity in evolution are needed, and the book will motivate the search for such results."

    –– C. F. de Carvalho & P. Nosil – In Current Biology, 32.

    “Despite the ubiquity of [phenotypic plasticity], its significance for understanding evolution remains contested and the subject of ongoing debate. Controversy surrounds why phenotypic plasticity evolved, what causal factors are responsible for its manifestation, and whether and how it reciprocally impacts ecological dynamics and evolutionary trajectories. The edited volume Phenotypic Plasticity & Evolution: Causes, Consequences, Controversies is intended as the most comprehensive and up‐to‐date locus where the full range of these questions is explored. In this, it is an unrivaled success with 15 informative chapters covering the waterfront on the topic.”

    –– Alan Love & Günter Wagner – In Evolution & Development



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