Evolution of Generalists by Phenotypic Plasticity.
ABSTRACT: Adapting organisms face a tension between specializing their phenotypes for certain ecological tasks and developing generalist strategies that permit persistence in multiple environmental conditions. Understanding when and how generalists or specialists evolve is an important question in evolutionary dynamics. Here, we study the evolution of bacterial range expansions by selecting Escherichia coli for faster migration through porous media containing one of four different sugars supporting growth and chemotaxis. We find that selection in any one sugar drives the evolution of faster migration in all sugars. Measurements of growth and motility of all evolved lineages in all nutrient conditions reveal that the ubiquitous evolution of fast migration arises via phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity permits evolved strains to exploit distinct strategies to achieve fast migration in each environment, irrespective of the environment in which they were evolved. Therefore, selection in a homogeneous environment drives phenotypic plasticity that improves performance in other environments.
Project description:Constraints on phenotypic variation limit the capacity of organisms to adapt to the multiple selection pressures encountered in natural environments. To better understand evolutionary dynamics in this context, we select Escherichia coli for faster migration through a porous environment, a process which depends on both motility and growth. We find that a trade-off between swimming speed and growth rate constrains the evolution of faster migration. Evolving faster migration in rich medium results in slow growth and fast swimming, while evolution in minimal medium results in fast growth and slow swimming. In each condition parallel genomic evolution drives adaptation through different mutations. We show that the trade-off is mediated by antagonistic pleiotropy through mutations that affect negative regulation. A model of the evolutionary process shows that the genetic capacity of an organism to vary traits can qualitatively depend on its environment, which in turn alters its evolutionary trajectory.
Project description:Phenotypic plasticity--the capacity of a single genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to varying environmental conditions--is widespread. Yet, whether, and how, plasticity impacts evolutionary diversification is unclear. According to a widely discussed hypothesis, plasticity promotes rapid evolution because genes expressed differentially across different environments (i.e., genes with "biased" expression) experience relaxed genetic constraint and thereby accumulate variation faster than do genes with unbiased expression. Indeed, empirical studies confirm that biased genes evolve faster than unbiased genes in the same genome. An alternative hypothesis holds, however, that the relaxed constraint and faster evolutionary rates of biased genes may be a precondition for, rather than a consequence of, plasticity's evolution. Here, we evaluated these alternative hypotheses by characterizing evolutionary rates of biased and unbiased genes in two species of frogs that exhibit a striking form of phenotypic plasticity. We also characterized orthologs of these genes in four species of frogs that had diverged from the two plastic species before the plasticity evolved. We found that the faster evolutionary rates of biased genes predated the evolution of the plasticity. Furthermore, biased genes showed greater expression variance than did unbiased genes, suggesting that they may be more dispensable. Phenotypic plasticity may therefore evolve when dispensable genes are co-opted for novel function in environmentally induced phenotypes. Thus, relaxed genetic constraint may be a cause--not a consequence--of the evolution of phenotypic plasticity, and thereby contribute to the evolution of novel traits.
Project description:Phenotypic plasticity allows organisms to produce alternative phenotypes under different conditions and represents one of the most important ways by which organisms adaptively respond to the environment. However, the relationship between phenotypic plasticity and molecular evolution remains poorly understood. We addressed this issue by investigating the evolution of genes associated with phenotypically plastic castes, sexes, and developmental stages of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. We first determined if genes associated with phenotypic plasticity in S. invicta evolved at a rapid rate, as predicted under theoretical models. We found that genes differentially expressed between S. invicta castes, sexes, and developmental stages all exhibited elevated rates of evolution compared with ubiquitously expressed genes. We next investigated the evolutionary history of genes associated with the production of castes. Surprisingly, we found that orthologs of caste-biased genes in S. invicta and the social bee Apis mellifera evolved rapidly in lineages without castes. Thus, in contrast to some theoretical predictions, our results suggest that rapid rates of molecular evolution may not arise primarily as a consequence of phenotypic plasticity. Instead, genes evolving under relaxed purifying selection may more readily adopt new forms of biased expression during the evolution of alternate phenotypes. These results suggest that relaxed selective constraint on protein-coding genes is an important and underappreciated element in the evolutionary origin of phenotypic plasticity.
Project description:Many organisms can acclimate to new environments through phenotypic plasticity, a complex trait that can be heritable, subject to selection, and evolve. However, the rate and genetic basis of plasticity evolution remain largely unknown. We experimentally evolved outbred populations of the nematode Caenorhabditis remanei under an acute heat shock during early larval development. When raised in a non-stressful environment, ancestral populations were highly sensitive to a 36.8°C heat shock and exhibited high mortality. However, initial exposure to a non-lethal high temperature environment resulted in significantly reduced mortality during heat shock (hormesis). Lines selected for heat shock resistance rapidly evolved the capacity to withstand heat shock in the native environment without any initial exposure to high temperatures, and early exposure to high temperatures did not lead to further increases in heat resistance. This loss of plasticity would appear to have resulted from the genetic assimilation of the heat induction response in the non-inducing environment. However, analyses of transcriptional variation via RNA-sequencing from the selected populations revealed no global changes in gene regulation correlated with the observed changes in heat stress resistance. Instead, assays of the phenotypic response across a broader range of temperatures revealed that the induced plasticity was not fixed across environments, but rather the threshold for the response was shifted to higher temperatures over evolutionary time. These results demonstrate that apparent genetic assimilation can result from shifting thresholds of induction across environments and that analysis of the broader environmental context is critically important for understanding the evolution of phenotypic plasticity. mRNA profiles of ancestral and two experimentally evolved populations of C. remanei at 20°C or 30°C, 6 replicates/temperature for each population
Project description:Many organisms can acclimate to new environments through phenotypic plasticity, a complex trait that can be heritable, subject to selection, and evolve. However, the rate and genetic basis of plasticity evolution remain largely unknown. We experimentally evolved outbred populations of the nematode Caenorhabditis remanei under an acute heat shock during early larval development. When raised in a nonstressful environment, ancestral populations were highly sensitive to a 36.8° heat shock and exhibited high mortality. However, initial exposure to a nonlethal high temperature environment resulted in significantly reduced mortality during heat shock (hormesis). Lines selected for heat shock resistance rapidly evolved the capacity to withstand heat shock in the native environment without any initial exposure to high temperatures, and early exposure to high temperatures did not lead to further increases in heat resistance. This loss of plasticity would appear to have resulted from the genetic assimilation of the heat induction response in the noninducing environment. However, analyses of transcriptional variation via RNA-sequencing from the selected populations revealed no global changes in gene regulation correlated with the observed changes in heat stress resistance. Instead, assays of the phenotypic response across a broader range of temperatures revealed that the induced plasticity was not fixed across environments, but rather the threshold for the response was shifted to higher temperatures over evolutionary time. These results demonstrate that apparent genetic assimilation can result from shifting thresholds of induction across environments and that analysis of the broader environmental context is critically important for understanding the evolution of phenotypic plasticity.
Project description:In a rapidly changing world, understanding the processes that influence a population's ability to respond to natural selection is critical for identifying how to preserve biodiversity. Two such processes are phenotypic plasticity and sexual selection. Whereas plasticity can facilitate local adaptation, sexual selection potentially impedes local adaptation, especially in rapidly changing or variable environments. Here we hypothesize that, when females preferentially choose males that sire plastic offspring, sexual selection can actually facilitate local adaptation to variable or novel environments by promoting the evolution of adaptive plasticity. We tested this hypothesis by evaluating whether male sexual signals could indicate plasticity in their offspring and, concomitantly, their offspring's ability to produce locally adapted phenotypes. Using spadefoot toads ( Spea multiplicata) as our experimental system, we show that a male sexual signal predicts plasticity in his offspring's resource-use morphology. Specifically, faster-calling males (which are preferred by females) produce more plastic offspring; such plasticity, in turn, enables these males' offspring to respond adaptively to the spadefoots' highly variable environment. The association between a preferred male signal and adaptive plasticity in his offspring suggests that female mate choice can favour the evolution and maintenance of phenotypic plasticity and thereby foster adaptation to a variable environment. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change'.
Project description:Plasticity-led evolution occurs when a change in the environment triggers a change in phenotype via phenotypic plasticity, and this pre-existing plasticity is subsequently refined by selection into an adaptive phenotype. A critical, but largely untested prediction of plasticity-led evolution (and evolution by natural selection generally) is that the rate and magnitude of evolutionary change should be positively associated with a phenotype's frequency of expression in a population. Essentially, the more often a phenotype is expressed and exposed to selection, the greater its opportunity for adaptive refinement. We tested this prediction by competing against each other spadefoot toad tadpoles from different natural populations that vary in how frequently they express a novel, environmentally induced carnivore ecomorph. As expected, laboratory-reared tadpoles whose parents were derived from populations that express the carnivore ecomorph more frequently were superior competitors for the resource for which this ecomorph is specialized-fairy shrimp. These tadpoles were better at using this resource both because they were more efficient at capturing and consuming shrimp and because they produced more exaggerated carnivore traits. Moreover, they exhibited these more carnivore-like features even without experiencing the inducing cue, suggesting that this ecomorph has undergone an extreme form of plasticity-led evolution-genetic assimilation. Thus, our findings provide evidence that the frequency of trait expression drives the magnitude of adaptive refinement, thereby validating a key prediction of plasticity-led evolution specifically and adaptive evolution generally.
Project description:Although the relationship between phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary dynamics has attracted large interest, very little is known about the contribution of phenotypic plasticity to adaptive evolution. In this study, we analyzed phenotypic and genotypic changes in E. coli cells during adaptive evolution to ethanol stress. To quantify the phenotypic changes, transcriptome analyses were performed. We previously obtained 6 independently evolved ethanol tolerant E. coli strains, strains A through F, by culturing cells under 5% ethanol stress for about 1000 generations and found a significantly larger growth rate than the parent strains (Horinouchi et al, 2010, PMID: 20955615). To elucidate the phenotypic changes that occurred during adaptive evolution, we quantified the time-series of the expression changes by microarray analysis. Starting from frozen stocks obtained at 6 time points (0, 384, 744, 1224, 1824 and 2496 hours) in laboratory evolution, cells were cultured under 5% ethanol stress, and mRNA samples were obtained in the exponential growth phase for microarray analysis.
Project description:Understanding the effects of temperature on ecological and evolutionary processes is crucial for generating future climate adaptation scenarios. Using experimental evolution, we evolved the model ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila in an initially novel high temperature environment for more than 35 generations, closely monitoring population dynamics and morphological changes. We observed initially long lag phases in the high temperature environment that over about 26 generations reduced to no lag phase, a strong reduction in cell size and modifications in cell shape at high temperature. When exposing the adapted populations to their original temperature, most phenotypic traits returned to the observed levels in the ancestral populations, indicating phenotypic plasticity is an important component of this species thermal stress response. However, persistent changes in cell size were detected, indicating possible costs related to the adaptation process. Exploring the molecular basis of thermal adaptation will help clarify the mechanisms driving these phenotypic responses.
Project description:Phenotypic plasticity and its evolution may help evolutionary rescue in a novel and stressful environment, especially if environmental novelty reveals cryptic genetic variation that enables the evolution of increased plasticity. However, the environmental stochasticity ubiquitous in natural systems may alter these predictions, because high plasticity may amplify phenotype-environment mismatches. Although previous studies have highlighted this potential detrimental effect of plasticity in stochastic environments, they have not investigated how it affects extinction risk in the context of evolutionary rescue and with evolving plasticity. We investigate this question here by integrating stochastic demography with quantitative genetic theory in a model with simultaneous change in the mean and predictability (temporal autocorrelation) of the environment. We develop an approximate prediction of long-term persistence under the new pattern of environmental fluctuations, and compare it with numerical simulations for short- and long-term extinction risk. We find that reduced predictability increases extinction risk and reduces persistence because it increases stochastic load during rescue. This understanding of how stochastic demography, phenotypic plasticity, and evolution interact when evolution acts on cryptic genetic variation revealed in a novel environment can inform expectations for invasions, extinctions, or the emergence of chemical resistance in pests.