Phenotypic determinism and contingency in the evolution of hypothetical tree-like organisms

Tomonobu Nonoyama, Satoshi Chiba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whether evolutionary history is mostly contingent or deterministic has been given much focus in the field of evolutionary biology. Studies addressing this issue have been conducted theoretically, based on models, and experimentally, based on microcosms. It has been argued that the shape of the adaptive landscape and mutation rate are major determinants of replicated phenotypic evolution. In the present study, to incorporate the effects of phenotypic plasticity, we constructed a model using tree-like organisms. In this model, the basic rules used to develop trees are genetically determined, but tree shape (described by the number and aspect ratio of the branches) is determined by both genetic components and plasticity. The results of the simulation show that the tree shapes become more deterministic under higher mutation rates. However, the tree shape became most contingent and diverse at the lower mutation rate. In this situation, the variances of the genetically determinant characters were low, but the variance of the tree shape is rather high, suggesting that phenotypic plasticity results in this contingency and diversity of tree shape. The present findings suggest that plasticity cannot be ignored as a factor that increases contingency and diversity of evolutionary outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0211671
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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