Plastic Inducible Morphologies Are Not Always Adaptive: the Importance of Time Delays in a Stochastic Environment

Document Type



Biology (HMC)

Publication Date



We present a mathematical model for predicting the expected fitness of phenotypically plastic organisms experiencing a variable environment. We assume that individuals experience two discrete environments probabilistically in time (as a Markov process) and that there are two different phenotypic states, each yielding the highest fitness in one of the two environments. We compare the expected fitness of a phenotypically fixed individual to that of an individual whose phenotype is induced to produce the better phenotype in each environment with a time lag between experiencing a new environment and realization of the new phenotype. Such time lags are common in organisms where phenotypically plastic, inducible traits have been documented. We find that although plasticity is generally adaptive when time lags are short (relative to the time scale of environmental variability), plasticity can be disadvantageous for longer lag times. Asymmetries in environmental change probabilities and/or the relative fitnesses of each phenotype strongly influence whether plasticity is favoured. In contrast to other models, our model does not require costs for plasticity to be disadvantaeous; costs affect the results quantitatively, not qualitatively.

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Copyright © 1996, Springer Netherlands