The quantitative genetic basis of clinal divergence in phenotypic plasticity

Authors: Belinda van Heerwaarden and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Evolution


Phenotypic plasticity is thought to be an important mechanism for adapting to environmental heterogeneity. Nonetheless, the genetic basis of plasticity is still not well understood.

In Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans, body size and thermal stress resistance show clinal patterns along the east coast of Australia, and exhibit plastic responses to different developmental temperatures. The genetic basis of thermal plasticity, and whether the genetic effects underlying clinal variation in traits and their plasticity are similar, remains unknown.

Here, we use line‐cross analyses between a tropical and temperate population of Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans developed at three constant temperatures (18°C, 25°C, and 29°C) to investigate the quantitative genetic basis of clinal divergence in mean thermal response (elevation) and plasticity (slope and curvature) for thermal stress and body size traits.

Generally, the genetic effects underlying divergence in mean response and plasticity differed, suggesting that different genetic models may be required to understand the evolution of trait means and plasticity.

Furthermore, our results suggest that nonadditive genetic effects, in particular epistasis, may commonly underlie plastic responses, indicating that current models that ignore epistasis may be insufficient to understand and predict evolutionary responses to environmental change.


van Heerwaarden B, Sgrò CM (2017) The quantitative genetic basis of clinal divergence in phenotypic plasticity, Evolution PDF DOI