Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning, plasticity and evolution

!!!!!!!! New time for lab meetings this semester will be 13:30!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Erik and I have been talking about how to measure and conceptualize the effects of learning on evolution. All in the light of our learning in our ongoing Calopteryx learned mate preference project of course.
To this effect, I've chosen two papers that are on this topic.
The first is an interesting paper by Ingo Paenke and Tadeusz Kawecki in Am Nat that models an old concept: the Baldwin effect: namely that plasticity (which, s.l. includes learning) can both accelerate and impede evolution. It explores if and when learned behavior may exert directional selection. You can download it here, the abstract is pasted below.

The second is a recent TREE paper by David Pfennig et al (download it here) that discusses the effect of phenotypic plasticity on diversification and speciation. Although they don't mention specifically to include learning, I of course will read it in that light, but then, I may be a little biased ;). Again, abstract is pasted below.
Hope you'll enjoy it too!

Phenotypic plasticity’s impacts on diversification and speciation

David W. Pfennig, Matthew A. Wund, Emilie C. Snell-Rood, Tami Cruickshank, Carl D. Schlichting and Armin P. Moczek

Phenotypic plasticity (the ability of a single genotype to produce multiple phenotypes in response to variation in the environment) is commonplace. Yet its evolutionary significance remains controversial, especially in regard to whether and how it impacts diversification and spe- ciation. Here, we review recent theory on how plasticity promotes: (i) the origin of novel phenotypes, (ii) diver- gence among populations and species, (iii) the formation of new species and (iv) adaptive radiation. We also discuss the latest empirical support for each of these evolutionary pathways to diversification and identify potentially profitable areas for future research. Gener- ally, phenotypic plasticity can play a largely underappre- ciated role in driving diversification and speciation.

Influence of Plasticity and Learning on Evolution under Directional Selection

Ingo Paenke, Bernhard Sendhoff, and Tadeusz J. Kawecki


Phenotypic plasticity and related processes (learning, developmental noise) have been proposed to both accelerate and slow down genetically based evolutionary change. While both views have been supported by various mathematical models and simulations, no general predictions have been offered as to when these alternative outcomes should occur. Here we propose a general framework to study the effects of plasticity on the rate of evolution under directional selection. It is formulated in terms of the fitness gain gradient, which measures the effect of a marginal change in the degree of plasticity on the slope of the relationship between the genotypic value of the focal trait and log fitness. If the gain gradient has the same sign as the direction of selection, an increase in plasticity will magnify the response to selection; if the two signs are opposite, greater plasticity will lead to slower response. We use this general result to derive conditions for the acceleration/deceleration under several simple forms of plasticity, including developmental noise. We also show that our approach explains the results of several specific models from the literature and thus provides a unifying framework

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