• adaptation;
  • maternal effects;
  • meta-analysis;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • transgenerational plasticity


The evolution of adaptive phenotypic plasticity relies on the presence of cues that enable organisms to adjust their phenotype to match local conditions. Although mostly studied with respect to nonsocial cues, it is also possible that parents transmit information about the environment to their offspring. Such ‘anticipatory parental effects’ or ‘adaptive transgenerational plasticity’ can have important consequences for the dynamics and adaptive potential of populations in heterogeneous environments. Yet, it remains unknown how widespread this form of plasticity is. Using a meta-analysis of experimental studies with a fully factorial design, we show that there is only weak evidence for higher offspring performance when parental and offspring environments are matched compared with when they are mismatched. Estimates of heterogeneity among studies suggest that effects, when they occur, are subtle. Study features, environmental context, life stage and trait categories all failed to explain significant amounts of variation in effect sizes. We discuss theoretical and methodological reasons for the limited evidence for anticipatory parental effects and suggest ways to improve our understanding of the prevalence of this form of plasticity in nature.