Daniel Nicholson
Evolution and Adaptation
PhD Research

The Role of Phenotypic Plasticity and Evolution in Response to Environmental Change

How and if phenotypic plasticity effects evolution is currently contested and has been since the late 19th century. Many studies suggest that phenotypic plasticity permits survival but prevents an evolutionary response. It is clear that phenotypic plasticity presents a benefit when a species is pressured by ecological or environmental factors such as predation or habitat structure, causing individuals to physically change in response. If the plastic response is assimilated into the genetics, therefore influencing evolution is contested. This PhD will assess if the plastic response of a Anolis species is sufficient to allow them to survive varying environmental selection pressures and how/if it influences evolution. Anolis apletophallus populations will be transplanted from sites across mainland Panama to small islands across Lake Gatun (Panama Canal). These islands have different environmental conditions to the mainland. Morphological and physiological traits will be measured in all individuals across numerous generations and compared to the mainland population, to allow the plasticity in traits to be observed. Genetic data will be used to determine the relationship between phenotypic plasticity and evolution. Ultimately this project will ascertain if phenotypic plasticity influences evolution and if it can rescue populations from climate change.
Rob Knell
Trenton Garner
University of Derby
Biodiversity & Conservation
University of Leeds
Work Experience
Conservationist/Project Manager
Dominican Mountain Chicken Project/ZSL
Research Assistant - Christmas Island
Australian National University
Nicholson, D.J. Hassall, C. Frazier, A.J.
Journal of Tropical Ecology - 31:563–566
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