Project/scholarship details


According to classic evolutionary theory nonheritable phenotypic variation would seem to be irrelevant to evolutionary change, since adaptation by natural selection rather depends on heritable phenotypic variation produced by genetic variation. However, when the rate of genetic evolutionary change is outpaced by changes in the environment the need for adaptive change without genetic mutation emerges. In this scenario, the evolution of phenotypic plasticity is favored according to which environmental cues sensed by the organism lead the same genotype to produce different phenotypes depending on environmental conditions (i.e. reaction norm). Thus, despite the fact that the contribution of nonheritable phenotypic variation to evolutionary change appears to be a paradox, the evolution of mechanisms that generate it can be a common evolutionary phenomenon. Different traits show different evolutionary changes in plasticity, both in terms of the time lag to respond to the environmental cue and of the magnitude of the response. Among animals, behavioral traits exhibit both more rapid and stronger plasticity than morphological traits, which makes behavioral plasticity a key adaptive response to changing environmental conditions. At the proximate level behavioral plasticity depends on the development of a central nervous system which allows for rapid and integrated organismal responses in order to maintain homeostasis (or allostasis). Many of these responses are simple reflexes and fixed action patterns elicited by a stimulus in the environment, when it determinately predicts an appropriate response. However, when environmental complexity and ambiguity increases, the capacity to adaptively modify behavior, as a function of experience (learning) and context, is needed. One of the most ambiguous components of the environment is the social domain, since it is made of other behavioral agents with an inherent level of unpredictability of their actions, with whom the individual needs to interact. Hence, the ability of animals to regulate the expression of social behavior, as to adapt their behavioral output to specific situations in a complex and variable social world, is expected to depend on the evolution of plastic responses. These allow the same genotype to produce different behavioral phenotypes (social plasticity), rather than to genetically determine rules controlling fixed responses. Thus, social plasticity should be viewed as a key ecological performance trait that impacts Darwinian fitness. Here we propose an integrative framework for understanding the proximate mechanisms and ultimate consequences of social plasticity. According to this framework, social plasticity is achieved by rewiring or by biochemically switching nodes of the neural network underlying social behavior in response to perceived social information. Therefore, at the molecular level, it depends on the social regulation of gene expression, so that different neurogenomic states correspond to different behavioral responses and the switches between states are orchestrated by signaling pathways that interface the social environment and the genotype. At the evolutionary scale social plasticity can be seen as an adaptive trait that can be under positive selection when changes in the environment outpace the rate of genetic evolutionary change. However, when social plasticity is too costly or incomplete, behavioral consistency (behavioral syndromes) can emerge by directional selection which recruits gene modules corresponding to favored behavioral states in that environment. In this project we will address the following questions (Q): Q1. What are the mechanisms animals use for sensing and responding adaptively to specific environmental cues that trigger plastic responses? Q2. How can the same genome produce different social phenotypes in response to cues provided by the ecological and social environment? Q3. Is plasticity itself subject to selection and might therefore evolve? Q4. Have the mechanisms underlying plasticity in social behavior been co-opted to regulate plasticity in inter-specific interactions, among species with complex inter-specific relationships (e.g. mutualisms)? The choice of fish as study models is justified by the fact that teleosts are the most diverse and plastic taxa among vertebrates. Following Krogh’s principle, we have chosen what we considered to be the species of choice to most conveniently study each of these questions (Q1: zebrafish, tilapia; Q2: peacock blenny; Q3: zebrafish; Q4: cleaner wrasse). As a result of this project we expect to show how knowledge of the proximate mechanisms underlying social plasticity is crucial to understanding its costs, limits and evolutionary consequences, therefore highlighting the fact that proximate mechanisms of nonheritable phenotypic variation contribute to the dynamics of selection.

  • Funder

    FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P.

  • Funder's country

    Portugal

  • Funding program

    3599-PPCDT

  • Funding amount

    310,000.00 €

  • Start date

    Sat Jun 01 00:00:00 WEST 2013

  • End date

    Tue May 31 00:00:00 WEST 2016

  • Date awarded

    Tue Mar 12 00:00:00 WET 2013

Documents


Androgen modulation of social decision-making mechanisms in the brain: an integ...

Oliveira, Gonçalo A.; Oliveira, Rui F.

Apart from their role in reproduction androgens also respond to social challenges and this response has been seen as a way to regulate the expression of behavior according to the perceived social environment (Challenge hypothesis, Wingfield et al., 1990). This hypothesis implies that social decision-making mechanisms localized in the central nervous system (CNS) are open to the influence of peripheral hormones ...


Brain transcriptomic response to social eavesdropping in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Lopes, João Sollari; Abril-de-Abreu, Rodrigo; Oliveira, Rui Filipe

Public information is widely available at low cost to animals living in social groups. For instance, bystanders may eavesdrop on signaling interactions between conspecifics and use it to adapt their subsequent behavior towards the observed individuals. This social eavesdropping ability is expected to require specialized mechanisms such as social attention, which selects social information available for learning...


Birth date predicts alternative life-history pathways in a fish with sequential...

Fagundes, Teresa; Simões, Mariana G.; Saraiva, João Luis Vargas de Almeida; Ros, Albert F. H.; Gonçalves, David; Oliveira, Rui Filipe

1. In species with plastic expression of alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs), individuals of the same sex, usually males, can adopt different reproductive tactics depending on factors such as body size. 2. The ‘birth date hypothesis’ proposes that condition-dependent expression of ARTs may ultimately depend on birth date, because individuals born at different times of the year may achieve different sizes an...


Dear enemies elicit lower androgen responses to territorial challenges than unf...

Aires, Rui F.; Oliveira, Gonçalo A.; Oliveira, Tânia Sofia Ferreira de; Ros, Albert F. H.; Oliveira, Rui Filipe

In many territorial species androgen hormones are known to increase in response to territorial intrusions as a way to adjust the expression of androgen-dependent behaviour to social challenges. The dear enemy effect has also been described in territorial species and posits that resident individuals show a more aggressive response to intrusions by strangers than by other territorial neighbours. Therefore, we hyp...


Social interactions elicit rapid shifts in functional connectivity in the socia...

Teles, Magda; Almeida, Olinda; Lopes, João Sollari; Oliveira, Rui Filipe

According to the social decision-making (SDM) network hypothesis, SDM is encoded in a network of forebrain and midbrain structures in a distributed and dynamic fashion, such that the expression of a given social behaviour is better reflected by the overall profile of activation across the different loci rather than by the activity of a single node. This proposal has the implicit assumption that SDM relies on in...


Brain Transcriptomic Response to Social Eavesdropping in Zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Lopes, João Sollari; Abril-de-Abreu, Rodrigo; Oliveira, Rui F.

Public information is widely available at low cost to animals living in social groups. For instance, bystanders may eavesdrop on signaling interactions between conspecifics and use it to adapt their subsequent behavior towards the observed individuals. This social eavesdropping ability is expected to require specialized mechanisms such as social attention, which selects social information available for learning...


Dear Enemies Elicit Lower Androgen Responses to Territorial Challenges than Unf...

Aires, Rui F.; Oliveira, Gonçalo A.; Oliveira, Tânia F.; Ros, Albert F. H.; Oliveira, Rui F.

In many territorial species androgen hormones are known to increase in response to territorial intrusions as a way to adjust the expression of androgen-dependent behaviour to social challenges. The dear enemy effect has also been described in territorial species and posits that resident individuals show a more aggressive response to intrusions by strangers than by other territorial neighbours. Therefore, we hyp...


Social odors conveying dominance and reproductive information induce rapid phys...

Simões, José M; Barata, Eduardo N; Harris, Rayna M; O’Connell, Lauren A; Hofmann, Hans A; Oliveira, Rui F

Social plasticity is a pervasive feature of animal behavior. Animals adjust the expression of their social behavior to the daily changes in social life and to transitions between life-history stages, and this ability has an impact in their Darwinian fitness. This behavioral plasticity may be achieved either by rewiring or by biochemically switching nodes of the neural network underlying social behavior in respo...


Socially driven changes in neural and behavioural plasticity in zebrafish

Teles, Magda Cristina, 1981-

Social competence, the ability of individuals to regulate the expression of their social behaviour in order to optimize their social relationships in a group, is especially benefic for individuals living in complex social environments, and implies the ability to perceive social cues and produce appropriate behavioural output responses (Social Plasticity). Numerous examples of social competence can be found in n...


Audience effects in Oreochromis mossambicus males on a territorial intrusion co...

Roleira, António João Almeida

In the natural environment animal communication occurs on a network with several potential signallers and receivers. Given that in a signalling interaction sender and receiver can be observed by a third-party who will collect relevant information, it would be advantageous for those who interact to modulate their behaviour according to the presence of an audience (audience effect). In this study we investigated ...

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