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Open Access Research article

Directional selection on cold tolerance does not constrain plastic capacity in a butterfly

Kristin Franke, Anneke Dierks and Klaus Fischer*

Author affiliations

Department of Animal Ecology, Zoological Institute and Museum, University of Greifswald, J.-S. Bachstraße 11/12, D-17489, Greifswald, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:235  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-235

Published: 5 December 2012



Organisms may respond to environmental change by means of genetic adaptation, phenotypic plasticity or both, which may result in genotype-environment interactions (G x E) if genotypes differ in their phenotypic response. We here specifically target the latter source of variation (i.e. G x E) by comparing plastic responses among lines of the tropical butterfly Bicyclus anynana that had been selected for increased cold tolerance and according controls. Our main aim here was to test the hypothesis that directional selection on cold tolerance will interfere with plastic capacities.


Plastic responses to temperature and feeding treatments were strong, with e.g. higher compared to lower temperatures reducing cold tolerance, longevity, pupal mass, and development time. We report a number of statistically significant genotype-environment interactions (i.e. interactions between selection regime and environmental variables), but most of these were not consistent across treatment groups. We found some evidence though for larger plastic responses to different rearing temperatures in the selection compared to the control lines, while plastic responses to different adult temperatures and feeding treatments were overall very similar across selection regimes.


Our results indicate that plastic capacities are not always constrained by directional selection (on cold tolerance) and therefore genetic changes in trait means, but may operate independently.

Artificial selection; Bicyclus anynana; Constraint; Genetic adaptation; Genotype by environment interaction; Phenotypic plasticity; Temperature stress resistance