A history of phenotypic plasticity accelerates adaptation to a new environment.
Can a history of phenotypic plasticity increase the rate of adaptation to a new environment? Theory suggests it can be through two different mechanisms. Phenotypically plastic organisms can adapt rapidly to new environments through genetic assimilation, or the fluctuating environments that result in phenotypic plasticity can produce evolvable genetic architectures. In this article, I studied a model of a gene regulatory network that determined a phenotypic character in one population selected for phenotypic plasticity and a second population in a constant environment. A history of phenotypic plasticity increased the rate of adaptation in a new environment, but the amount of this increase was dependent on the strength of selection in the original environment. Phenotypic variance in the original environment predicted the adaptive capacity of the trait within, but not between, plastic and nonplastic populations. These results have implications for invasive species and ecological studies of rapid adaptation. © 2011 The Author. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2011 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.