Plasticity as panacea? Nerves, hormones, and the currencies of trade-offs

Elizabeth J Bastiaans, Elizabeth Swanger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Phenotypic plasticity is nearly universal among organisms, and evidence indicates that plasticity can exhibit additive genetic variation and respond to selection. These findings have important implications for our understanding of how plasticity may be constrained and how its mechanistic structure may affect its evolution. Many life history trade-offs may be conceptualized as plastic traits, with individuals varying in their position along trade-off axes due to genetic differences, developmental plasticity, or short-term plasticity occurring throughout an individual’s lifetime. Behavioral plasticity is key to understanding when organisms are likely to encounter trade-offs, whether those trade-offs can be mitigated, and how the trade-offs affect the ecology and evolution of populations. In this review, we discuss hormonal and neural mechanisms that may influence how plastic behavioral traits are expressed and evolve. We also outline a classification of life history trade-offs and their mechanistic bases and discuss the currencies most likely to mediate each category of trade-off and how they are tied to the mechanisms by which animals express their behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-264
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015


  • Hormones
  • Life history trade-offs
  • Neural tissue
  • Phenotypic plasticity

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