To achieve a coherent evolutionary theory, it is necessary to account for the effects of the environment on the process of development. Phenotypic plasticity is the change in the expressed phenotype of a genotype as a function of the environment. Various measures of plasticity exist, many of which can be united within the framework of a polynomial function. This function is the norm of reaction. For the special case of a linear reaction norm, genetic variation can be partitioned into portions that are independent and dependent on the environment. From this partition two heritability measures are derived which can be used, alternatively, to compare populations or make predictions about the response to selection. Genetically, plasticity is likely due both to differences in allelic expression across environments and to changes in interactions among loci; plasticity is not a function of heterozygosity. Plasticity responds to both artificial and natural selection. The evolution of plasticity is modeled in three ways: optimality models, quantitative genetic models, and gametic models. All models make similar predictions about the conditions that will favor plasticity. In need of further development are the extension of quantitative genetic models, and structured population models; also needed are data on the true shapes of reaction norms and genetic variation and covariation for nonlinear reaction norm parameters and multiple environments.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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