Maternal effects, phenotypic plasticity and environmental change

Rebecca Hoyle, University of Southampton. Part of the colloquium seminar series.

Maternal effects are the influences of the maternal phenotype on offspring phenotypes by routes other than direct genetic transmission. Potentially they provide an additional means of adaptation to changing environmental conditions over and above that afforded by within-generation phenotypic plasticity. I will present results from a quantitative genetics model of the coevolution of maternal effects and phenotypic plasticity following an abrupt environmental change and during cyclical environmental fluctuations such as seasonal variation. We find that generally the strongest maternal effects occur for traits that experience very strong selection and for which plasticity is severely constrained. For traits experiencing weak selection, phenotypic plasticity enhances the evolutionary scope of maternal effects, but maternal effects attain much smaller values throughout. As weak selection is common, our results suggest that finding substantial maternal influences on offspring phenotypes may be more challenging than anticipated.

Rebecca Hoyle, University of Southampton