Phylogenetic patterns of trait and trait plasticity evolution: Insights from amphibian embryos

Rick A. Relyea, Patrick R. Stephens, Lisa N. Barrow, Andrew R. Blaustein, Paul W. Bradley, Julia C. Buck, Ann Chang, James P. Collins, Brian Crother, Julia Earl, Stephanie S. Gervasi, Jason T. Hoverman, Oliver Hyman, Emily Moriarty Lemmon, Thomas M. Luhring, Moses Michelson, Chris Murray, Steven Price, Raymond D. Semlitsch, Andrew SihAaron B. Stoler, Nick VandenBroek, Alexa Warwick, Greta Wengert, John I. Hammond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Environmental variation favors the evolution of phenotypic plasticity. For many species, we understand the costs and benefits of different phenotypes, but we lack a broad understanding of how plastic traits evolve across large clades. Using identical experiments conducted across North America, we examined prey responses to predator cues. We quantified five life-history traits and the magnitude of their plasticity for 23 amphibian species/populations (spanning three families and five genera) when exposed to no cues, crushed-egg cues, and predatory crayfish cues. Embryonic responses varied considerably among species and phylogenetic signal was common among the traits, whereas phylogenetic signal was rare for trait plasticities. Among trait-evolution models, the Ornstein–Uhlenbeck (OU) model provided the best fit or was essentially tied with Brownian motion. Using the best fitting model, evolutionary rates for plasticities were higher than traits for three life-history traits and lower for two. These data suggest that the evolution of life-history traits in amphibian embryos is more constrained by a species’ position in the phylogeny than is the evolution of life history plasticities. The fact that an OU model of trait evolution was often a good fit to patterns of trait variation may indicate adaptive optima for traits and their plasticities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-678
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by a National Science Foundation grant (DEB 07–16149) to RAR and PRS. During the data analysis, JIH was supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences Grant K12GM088021. Content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of either the NIH or NSF. We were also assisted by a large number of undergraduate students spanning all of the laboratories. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. We also thanks the Associate Editor and three excellent reviewers for their help in making this a stronger, clearer, and more compelling publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s). Evolution © 2018 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Anaxyrus
  • Hyla
  • Lithobates
  • Pseudacris
  • Rana
  • phylogenetic inertia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


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