Phenotypic plasticity drives cichlid radiations?
Rapid convergent radiations and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis
At the Royal Society last month, I was listening to proponents of the "extended evolutionary synthesis" (EES). Patrick Goymer has blogged this meeting for Nature Ecology & Evolution, and tweets from it can be found on Storify. The debates have rumbled on in the back of my mind since, especially the contention that phenotypic plasticity is too neglected in evolutionary biology. I was therefore fascinated to stumble upon a paper in press at Molecular Ecology which suggests an impressive case of phenotypic plasticity accelerating evolution. Ralf Schneider and Axel Meyer argue that rapid, convergent radiations of cichlid fish in East African Lakes have been greatly facilitated by morphological plasticity, and its fixation as regulatory networks degenerate. "The cichlids of Africa's lakes impress us mightily with what evolution can do in a short space of time", wrote Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth (Bantam Press, 2009). Will these radiations become textbook examples of the EES in action?