Plasticity and evolution in correlated suites of traits

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When organisms are faced with new or changing environments, a central challenge is the coordination of adaptive shifts in many different phenotypic traits. Relationships among traits may facilitate or constrain evolutionary responses to selection, depending on whether the direction of selection is aligned or opposed to the pattern of trait correlations. Attempts to predict evolutionary potential in correlated traits generally assume that correlations are stable across time and space; however, increasing evidence suggests that this may not be the case, and flexibility in trait correlations could bias evolutionary trajectories. We examined genetic and environmental influences on variation and covariation in a suite of behavioural traits to understand if and how flexibility in trait correlations influences adaptation to novel environments. We tested the role of genetic and environmental influences on behavioural trait correlations by comparing Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) historically adapted to high- and low-predation environments that were reared under native and non-native environmental conditions. Both high- and low-predation fish exhibited increased behavioural variance when reared under non-native vs. native environmental conditions, and rearing in the non-native environment shifted the major axis of variation among behaviours. Our findings emphasize that trait correlations observed in one population or environment may not predict correlations in another and that environmentally induced plasticity in correlations may bias evolutionary divergence in novel environments.

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