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Keywords:

  • phenotypic evolution;
  • reaction norm;
  • allometry;
  • development;
  • ontogeny;
  • heterochrony;
  • plasticity;
  • constraint;
  • epigenetics;
  • selection

Abstract How micro- and macroevolutionary evolutionary processes produce phenotypic change is without question one of the most intriguing and perplexing issues facing evolutionary biologists. We believe that roadblocks to progress lie A) in the underestimation of the role of the environment, and in particular, that of the interaction of genotypes with environmental factors, and B) in the continuing lack of incorporation of development into the evolutionary synthesis. We propose the integration of genetic, environmental and developmental perspectives on the evolution of the phenotype in the form of the concept of the developmental reaction norm (DRN) The DRN represents the set of multivariate ontogenies that can be produced by a single genotype when it is exposed to environmental variation. It encompasses: 1) the processes that alter the phenotype throughout the ontogenetic trajectory, 2) the recognition that different aspects of the phenotype are (and must be) correlated and 3) the ability of a genotype to produce phenotypes in different environments. This perspective necessitates the explicit study of character expression during development, the evaluation of associations between pairs or groups of characters (e.g., multivariate allometries), and the exploration of reaction norms and phenotypic plasticity. We explicitly extend the concept of the DRN to encompass adjustments made in response to changes in the internal environment as well. Thus, ‘typical’ developmental sequences (e.g., cell fate determination) and plastic responses are simply manifestations of different scales of ‘environmental’ effects along a continuum. We present: (1) a brief conceptual review of three fundamental aspects of the generation and evolution of phenotypes: the changes in the trajectories describing growth and differentiation (ontogeny), the multivariate relationships among characters (allometry), and the effect of the environment (plasticity); (2) a discussion of how these components are merged in the concept of the developmental reaction norm; and (3) a reaction norm perspective of major determinants of phenotypes: epigenesis, selection and constraint.