Gaige Annual Lecture*
One of biology’s most significant unresolved problems is to understand how novel, complex traits originate and subsequently diversify. A growing number of biologists have begun to ask whether environmentally initiated phenotypic change – developmental plasticity – precedes, and even facilitates, evolutionary innovation and diversification. However, this “plasticity first” hypothesis remains controversial, primarily because comprehensive tests from natural populations are generally lacking. In my talk, I’ll briefly describe the plasticity-first hypothesis, present much-needed key criteria to allow tests in diverse natural systems, and discuss tests of these criteria using natural populations of spadefoot toads. Generally, developmental plasticity might play an underappreciated role in adaptive evolution.
*The lecture is named for Frederick Gaige, who specialized in Neotropical ants and served as director of the Museum of Zoology from 1929 – 1946.