Frank, S. A. 2011. Natural selection. II. Developmental variability and evolutionary rate. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24:2310-2320.
In classical evolutionary theory, genetic variation provides the source of heritable phenotypic variation on which natural selection acts. Against this classical view, several theories have emphasized that developmental variability and learning enhance nonheritable phenotypic variation, which in turn can accelerate evolutionary response. In this paper, I show how developmental variability alters evolutionary dynamics by smoothing the landscape that relates genotype to fitness. In a fitness landscape with multiple peaks and valleys, developmental variability can smooth the landscape to provide a directly increasing path of fitness to the highest peak. Developmental variability also allows initial survival of a genotype in response to novel or extreme environmental challenge, providing an opportunity for subsequent adaptation. This initial survival advantage arises from the way in which developmental variability smooths and broadens the fitness landscape. Ultimately, the synergism between developmental processes and genetic variation sets evolutionary rate.