“Species’ range dynamics affect the evolution of spatial variation in plasticity under environmental change”

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Max Schmid, Ramon Dallo, and Frédéric Guillaume (June 2019)

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An alternative to the climate variability hypothesis: Geographic clines in plasticity evolve during range dynamics


While clines in environmental tolerance and phenotypic plasticity along a single species’ range have been reported repeatedly and are of special interest in the context of adaptation to environmental changes, we know little about their evolution. Recent empirical findings in ectotherms suggest that processes underlying dynamic species’ ranges can give rise to spatial differences in environmental tolerance and phenotypic plasticity within species. We used individual-based simulations to investigate how plasticity and tolerance evolve in the course of three scenarios of species’ range shifts and range expansions on environmental gradients. We found that regions of a species’ range which experienced a longer history or larger extent of environmental change generally exhibited increased plasticity or tolerance. Such regions may be at the trailing edge when a species is tracking its ecological niche in space (e.g., in a climate change scenario) or at the front edge when a species expands into a new habitat (e.g., in an expansion/invasion scenario). Elevated tolerance and plasticity in the distribution center was detected when asymmetric environmental change (e.g., polar amplification) led to a range expansion. However, tolerance and plasticity clines were transient and slowly flattened out after range dynamics because of genetic assimilation.