Phenotypic plasticity explains apparent reverse evolution of fat synthesis in parasitic wasps
*Corresponding author for this work
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › Academic › peer-review
Numerous cases of evolutionary trait loss and regain have been reported over the years. Here, we argue that such reverse evolution can also become apparent when trait expression is plastic in response to the environment. We tested this idea for the loss and regain of fat synthesis in parasitic wasps. We first show experimentally that the wasp Leptopilina heterotoma switches lipogenesis on in a fat-poor environment, and completely off in a fat-rich environment. Plasticity suggests that this species did not regain fat synthesis, but that it can be switched off in some environmental settings. We then compared DNA sequence variation and protein domains of several more distantly related parasitoid species thought to have lost lipogenesis, and found no evidence for non-functionality of key lipogenesis genes. This suggests that other parasitoids may also show plasticity of fat synthesis. Last, we used individual-based simulations to show that a switch for plastic expression can remain functional in the genome for thousands of generations, even if it is only used sporadically. The evolution of plasticity could thus also explain other examples of apparent reverse evolution.