The conceptual structure of evolutionary biology: A framework from phenotypic plasticity

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Abstract

In this review, I approach the role of phenotypic plasticity as a key aspect of the conceptual framework of evolutionary biology. The concept of phenotypic plasticity is related to other relevant concepts of contemporary research in evolutionary biology, such as assimilation, genetic accommodation and canalization, evolutionary robustness, evolvability, evolutionary capacitance and niche construction. Although not always adaptive, phenotypic plasticity can promote the integration of these concepts to represent some of the dynamics of evolution, which can be visualized through the use of a conceptual map. Although the use of conceptual maps is common in areas of knowledge such as psychology and education, their application in evolutionary biology can lead to a better understanding of the processes and conceptual interactions of the complex dynamics of evolution. The conceptual map I present here includes environmental variability and variation, phenotypic plasticity and natural selection as key concepts in evolutionary biology. The evolution of phenotypic plasticity is important to ecology at all levels of organization, from morphological, physiological and behavioral adaptations that influence the distribution and abundance of populations to the structuring of assemblages and communities and the flow of energy through trophic levels. Consequently, phenotypic plasticity is important for maintaining ecological processes and interactions that influence the complexity of biological diversity. In addition, because it is a typical occurrence and manifests itself through environmental variation in conditions and resources, plasticity must be taken into account in the development of management and conservation strategies at local and global levels.

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