The fitness threshold model: Random environmental change alters adaptive landscapes Academic Article uri icon


  • We used a probabilistic optimization model to explore the joint evolutionary effects of random phenotypic and environmental variation. Two forms of environmental noise were defined in which the optimal phenotype remained constant but all organisms experienced either the same proportionate or the same absolute fitness gains and losses. There was no evolutionary effect of proportionate fitness fluctuations. In contrast, the optimal genotype varied with absolute fitness fluctuations, despite the environmental effect being phenotype-independent. We refer to such phenotype-independent fluctuation in absolute fitness as the 'fitness threshold model', because shared fitness erects determine the zero-fitness points (i.e. the baseline) on an intrinsic fitness function. Thus, environmental effects that are unrelated to a focal trait can cause peak shifts in the genetic optimum for the trait. Changes in the fitness threshold not only changed peak locations, but also altered the slopes defining the peaks, and so should alter the rate of evolution towards optima. This model pertains to evolution in any system, unless there is no phenotypic or environmental variance, or the selection function and distribution of phenotypic error assume similar shapes. Our results have many basic and applied implications for topics such as the maintenance of genetic variation, the canalization of development and the management of natural populations.

published proceedings

  • Evolutionary Ecology

author list (cited authors)

  • DeWITT1, T. J., & Yoshimura, J.

citation count

  • 10

complete list of authors

  • DeWITT1, Thomas J||Yoshimura, Jin

publication date

  • January 1998