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Phenotypic plasticity

In the increasingly concerning context of environmental changes it is a reasonable postulation that organisms capable of plasticity for fitness impacting traits will have a better chance of survivingWhile step by step gradual genome evolution by random mutation cannot track such rapid environment changes, phenotypic plasticity and non-genetic inheritance are becoming recognized as being well suited to this taskPhenotypic plasticity may not only directly mitigate the fitness impacts of environmental changes but can also facilitate colonisation of new habitats and evolutionary processes including mutation and selection leading to local adaptation. Therefore, to assess how species may adapt to a rapidly changing environment, we must understand the processes that influence within and among population variation in the shape and amplitude of relevant reaction norms

It has become a priority to gather not only field data and experimental data but also theoretical data in order to comprehensively assess the resilience of ecosystems to perturbations from genes, to physiology to behaviour to populations and communities’ dynamics, and to ecosystems functioning. A number of projects at SEEM are directly aimed at this task using alternative conceptual approaches, and a variety of experimental models and experimental set-ups (notably meta-ecosystems). One major axis of our research focuses on understanding how environment (social, thermal, paysage heterogeneity) and genes interact to produce phenotypic change in organisms, with high emphasis on the mechanisms involved in the transmission of “culture” (non-genetic inherited information). A major goal is to understand how the various sources of information (genetic and non-genetic) interact and are traded-off in shaping the phenotype. Measuring these trade-offs is crucial for that they can drastically limit adaptive potential.
A second research axis aims at understanding the evolution of phenotypic plasticity as a trait ; its limits, constraints, and costs. While models exist, very few empirical data have come to support or infer these models. Current shift in temperature regimes (mean, extremes and variability) due to climate change offer an unfortunate but real opportunity to investigate and measure trends of variations of reaction norms (shape, direction, amplitude), trade-offs (between plastic traits, or between plastic and non-plastic traits), and also perhaps detect the evolution of plasticity itself, or its annihilation (i.e. genetic assimilation).
  •  A. Chaine (Evolution of life history traits in birds)
  •  S. Blanchet (Co-evolution of plasticity in host-parasite relationships in fish)
  • F. Aubret (Evolution of plasticity along altitudinal and longitudinal gradients in an amphibious snake)
  •  M. Baguette (Evolution of dispersal in meta-populations in butterflies)
  •  J. Clobert (Evolution of dispersal in lizards).