The Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation: Revisiting two mechanisms of evolutionary change mediated by phenotypic plasticity

  • Crispo E
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Two different, but related, evolutionary theories pertaining to phenotypic plasticity were proposed by James Mark Baldwin and Conrad Hal Waddington. Unfortunately, these theories are often confused with one another. Baldwin's notion of organic selection posits that plasticity influences whether an individual will survive in a new environment, thus dictating the course of future evolution. Heritable variations can then be selected upon to direct phenotypic evolution (i.e., "orthoplasy"). The combination of these two processes (organic selection and orthoplasy) is now commonly referred to as the "Baldwin effect." Alternately, Waddington's genetic assimilation is a process whereby an environmentally induced phenotype, or "acquired character," becomes canalized through selection acting upon the developmental system. Genetic accommodation is a modern term used to describe the process of heritable changes that occur in response to a novel induction. Genetic accommodation is a key component of the Baldwin effect, and genetic assimilation is a type of genetic accommodation. I here define both the Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation in terms of genetic accommodation, describe cases in which either should occur in nature, and propose that each could play a role in evolutionary diversification. CR - Copyright © 2007 Society for the Study of Evolution

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adaptive divergence
  • Adaptive radiation
  • Canalization
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Evolutionary diversification
  • Genetic accommodation
  • Phenotypic accommodation

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  • Erika Crispo

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