Developmental capacitance, genetic accommodation, and adaptive evolution




SUMMARY The concept of genetic accommodation remains controversial, in part because it remains unclear whether evolution by genetic accommodation forces a revolution, or merely a shift in emphasis, in our understanding of how evolution produces adaptive new traits. Here I outline a perspective that largely favors the latter view. I argue that evolution by genetic accommodation can easily be integrated into traditional evolutionary concepts. At the same time, evolution by genetic accommodation invites novel empirical and theoretical approaches that may allow biologists to push the boundaries of our current understanding of the process of evolution and to solve some long-standing controversies. Specifically, I discuss the role of developmental mechanisms as natural, and likely ubiquitous, capacitors of cryptic genetic variation, and the role of environmental perturbations as mechanisms by which such variation can become visible to selection on an individual to population-wide scale. I argue that in combination, developmental capacitance and large-scale environmental perturbations have the potential to facilitate rapid evolution including the origin of novel adaptive features while circumventing otherwise powerful genetic and population-biological constraints on adaptive evolution. I end by highlighting several promising avenues for future empirical research to explore the mechanisms and significance of evolution by genetic accommodation.