The implications of nongenetic inheritance for evolution in changing environments
Article first published online: 8 NOV 2011
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
Special Issue: The evolutionary basis of biodiversity and its potential for adaptation to global change
Volume 5, Issue 2, pages 192–201, February 2012
How to Cite
Bonduriansky, R., Crean, A. J. and Day, T. (2012), The implications of nongenetic inheritance for evolution in changing environments. Evolutionary Applications, 5: 192–201. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2011.00213.x
- Issue published online: 29 FEB 2012
- Article first published online: 8 NOV 2011
- Received: 29 September 2011 Accepted: 6 October 2011 First published online: 8 November 2011
- climate change;
- conservation biology;
- conservation genetics;
- evolutionary theory;
- phenotypic plasticity
Nongenetic inheritance is a potentially important but poorly understood factor in population responses to rapid environmental change. Accumulating evidence indicates that nongenetic inheritance influences a diverse array of traits in all organisms and can allow for the transmission of environmentally induced phenotypic changes (‘acquired traits’), as well as spontaneously arising and highly mutable variants. We review models of adaptation to changing environments under the assumption of a broadened model of inheritance that incorporates nongenetic mechanisms of transmission, and survey relevant empirical examples. Theory suggests that nongenetic inheritance can increase the rate of both phenotypic and genetic change and, in some cases, alter the direction of change. Empirical evidence shows that a diversity of phenotypes – spanning a continuum from adaptive to pathological – can be transmitted nongenetically. The presence of nongenetic inheritance therefore complicates our understanding of evolutionary responses to environmental change. We outline a research program encompassing experimental studies that test for transgenerational effects of a range of environmental factors, followed by theoretical and empirical studies on the population-level consequences of such effects.