Natural populations are continually exposed to environmental change and respond in the short-term via plastic mechanisms and over longer time periods by genetic adaptation. Both plastic and genetic responses to changes in the mean environment are well understood. However, less is known about the responses to changes in the variability and stochasticity of environmental parameters. Optimal phenotypes are known to depend on levels of environmental variability. This means that if levels of variability are predictable, plastic and/or genetic adaptations can be expected. However, both the levels of variability as well as their predictability may change over time and space. Understanding adaptive responses to such changes in the pattern of environmental variability (rather than mean values) represents a major frontier in ecology and evolution and is the main focus of this proposal.
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