Table of Contents
International Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume 2014, Article ID 416497, 18 pages
Review Article

Plasticity-Mediated Persistence in New and Changing Environments

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4

Received 18 July 2014; Revised 29 September 2014; Accepted 30 September 2014; Published 15 October 2014

Academic Editor: Hirohisa Kishino

Copyright © 2014 Matthew R. J. Morris. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Baldwin’s synthesis of the Organicist position, first published in 1896 and elaborated in 1902, sought to rescue environmentally induced phenotypes from disrepute by showing their Darwinian significance. Of particular interest to Baldwin was plasticity’s mediating role during environmental change or colonization—plastic individuals were more likely to successfully survive and reproduce in new environments than were nonplastic individuals. Once a population of plastic individuals had become established, plasticity could further mediate the future course of evolution. The evidence for plasticity-mediated persistence (PMP) is reviewed here with a particular focus on evolutionary rescue experiments, studies on invasive success, and the role of learning in survival. Many PMP studies are methodologically limited, showing that preexistent plasticity has utility in new environments (soft PMP) rather than directly demonstrating that plasticity is responsible for persistence (hard PMP). An ideal PMP study would be able to demonstrate that (1) plasticity preexisted environmental change, (2) plasticity was fortuitously beneficial in the new environment, (3) plasticity was responsible for individual persistence in the new environment, and (4) plasticity was responsible for population persistence in succeeding generations. Although PMP is not ubiquitous, Baldwin’s hypotheses have been largely vindicated in theoretical and empirical studies, but much work remains.