Modifying effects of phenotypic plasticity on interactions among natural selection, adaptation and gene flow


Erika Crispo, Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Ave. Dr Penfield, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1.
Tel.: (514)398-8199; fax: (514)398-5069; e-mail:


Divergent natural selection, adaptive divergence and gene flow may interact in a number of ways. Recent studies have focused on the balance between selection and gene flow in natural populations, and empirical work has shown that gene flow can constrain adaptive divergence, and that divergent selection can constrain gene flow. A caveat is that phenotypic diversification may be under the direct influence of environmental factors (i.e. it may be due to phenotypic plasticity), in addition to partial genetic influence. In this case, phenotypic divergence may occur between populations despite high gene flow that imposes a constraint on genetic divergence. Plasticity may dampen the effects of natural selection by allowing individuals to rapidly adapt phenotypically to new conditions, thus slowing adaptive genetic divergence. On the other hand, plasticity may promote future adaptive divergence by allowing populations to persist in novel environments. Plasticity may promote gene flow between selective regimes by allowing dispersers to adapt to alternate conditions, or high gene flow may result in the selection for increased plasticity. Here I expand frameworks for understanding relationships among selection, adaptation and gene flow to include the effects of phenotypic plasticity in natural populations, and highlight its importance in evolutionary diversification.