Genetic variation in phenotypic plasticity in fishes

Friday seminar by Jeffrey A. Hutchings

Genetic variability in classically defined, univariate reaction norms reflects differences in the ability of individuals, populations, and ultimately species to respond to environmental change. Studies of such genetic differentiation serve to refine our capacity to predict how populations will respond to natural and human-induced changes to the environment, including those resulting from fisheries and climate change. Given the extraordinary variability in morphology, behaviour, and life history in fishes, one might anticipate the research milieu on reaction norms to be empirically rich and intellectually engaging.

Here, I undertake a review of genetic variability in reaction norms in fishes, focusing particularly on salmonids because it is within this family that most plasticity research on fishes has been undertaken. Although in its infancy from a publication perspective, there is taxonomically broad evidence of genetic differentiation in continuous, threshold, and bivariate reaction norms among individuals, families, and populations (including inter-population hybrids and backcrosses) for traits as divergent as embryonic development, age and size at maturity, and gene expression. There is compelling inferential evidence that plasticity is heritable and that population differences in reaction norms can reflect adaptive responses, by natural selection, to local environments. As a stimulus for future work, research questions are identified that focus on reaction norm variability, selection, costs and constraints, demographic and conservation consequences, and genetic markers and correlates of phenotypic plasticity.

Jeffrey A. Hutchings
Department of Biology, Life Sciences Centre, Dalhousie University

Published Mar. 6, 2012 2:17 PM - Last modified Nov. 23, 2017 10:10 AM