Mechanisms of plastic rescue in novel environments

Emilie C. Snell-Rood, Megan E. Kobiela, Kristin L. Sikkink, Alexander M. Shephard

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Adaptive phenotypic plasticity provides a mechanism of developmental rescue in novel and rapidly changing environments. Understanding the underlying mechanism of plasticity is important for predicting both the likelihood that a developmental response is adaptive and associated life-history trade-offs that could influence patterns of subsequent evolutionary rescue. Although evolved developmental switches may move organisms toward a new adaptive peak in a novel environment, such mechanisms often result in maladaptive responses. The induction of generalized physiological mechanisms in new environments is relatively more likely to result in adaptive responses to factors such as novel toxins, heat stress, or pathogens. Developmental selection forms of plasticity, which rely on within-individual selective processes, such as shaping of tissue architecture, trial-and-error learning, or acquired immunity, are particularly likely to result in adaptive plasticity in a novel environment. However, both the induction of plastic responses and the ability to be plastic through developmental selection come with significant costs, resulting in delays in reproduction, increased individual investment, and reduced fecundity. Thus, we might expect complex interactions between plastic responses that allow survival in novel environments and subsequent evolutionary responses at the population level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-354
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This manuscript was greatly improved as a result of comments from one anonymous reviewer as well as Ruth Shaw, Mark Borello, Alan Love, Mike Travisano, and other members of the UMN Biology Interest Group. Many ideas presented here were developed in part through discussions with Dan Papaj, Armin Moczek, Alex Badyaev, Lisa Nagy, Wulfila Gronenberg, Goggy Davidowitz, and countless others, in addition to working groups at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and symposia at the Society for the Study of Integrative and Comparative Biology. During the writing of this review, the Snell-Rood lab was supported in part through grants from the National Science Foundation (IOS-1354737) and from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • anthropogenic change
  • developmental plasticity
  • evolutionary rescue
  • learning
  • life history


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