XII.10.2.2 Species with a high degree of developmental plasticity can have a lower evolutionary potential as a result of their reduced ability to submit to environmental selection pressures

From the viewpoint of the individual, it is advantageous if its phenotype corresponds best to the local conditions of the environment in which it finds itself.However, from the standpoint of the existence of the species, adaptive developmental plasticity reduces the ability of the species to submit to the action of selection pressure in the environment, and thus to evolutionarily adapt to changing conditions.If the environment undergoes cyclic changes, i.e. oscillates between several different states at regular or irregular intervals, this evolutionary stability of the species can be advantageous, as it reduces the substitution burden to which the species would otherwise be exposed.In contrast, if the changes are acyclic and irreversible or cyclic, but with a periodicity that is comparable with the usual length of existence of the species, developmental plasticity and the related reduced evolutionary plasticity will decrease the chance of long-term survival of the particular species.While species without developmental plasticity have a chance to gradually adapt to the particular changes in the environment as a consequence of the action of selection, a developmentally plastic species only avoids the relevant selection pressure temporarily and frequently imperfectly within the limits of its developmental plasticity.Whether and how much developmental plasticity actually reduces the evolutionary potential of a species is still a subject of discussion.The fact that, on a drastic change in the conditions in the external environment, it partly protects the species against the action of selection, simultaneously provides the species with time to accumulate mutations that gradually lead to the formation of adaptive adjustment to the new conditions (see XVI.3.1).s

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The classical Darwinian theory of evolution can explain the evolution of adaptive traits only in asexual organisms. The frozen plasticity theory is much more general: It can also explain the origin and evolution of adaptive traits in both asexual and sexual organisms Read more
Draft translation from: Evoluční biologie, 2. vydání (Evolutionary biology, 2nd edition), J. Flegr, Academia Prague 2009. The translation was not done by biologist, therefore any suggestion concerning proper scientific terminology and language usage are highly welcomed. You can send your comments to flegratcesnet [dot] cz. Thank you.