Phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in vertebrates

Jay F Storz, Graham R. Scott, Zachary A. Cheviron

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

154 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

High-altitude environments provide ideal testing grounds for investigations of mechanism and process in physiological adaptation. In vertebrates, much of our understanding of the acclimatization response to high-altitude hypoxia derives from studies of animal species that are native to lowland environments. Such studies can indicate whether phenotypic plasticity will generally facilitate or impede adaptation to high altitude. Here, we review general mechanisms of physiological acclimatization and genetic adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in birds and mammals. We evaluate whether the acclimatization response to environmental hypoxia can be regarded generally as a mechanism of adaptive phenotypic plasticity, or whether it might sometimes represent a misdirected response that acts as a hindrance to genetic adaptation. In cases in which the acclimatization response to hypoxia is maladaptive, selection will favor an attenuation of the induced phenotypic change. This can result in a form of cryptic adaptive evolution in which phenotypic similarity between high- and low-altitude populations is attributable to directional selection on genetically based trait variation that offsets environmentally induced changes. The blunted erythropoietic and pulmonary vasoconstriction responses to hypoxia in Tibetan humans and numerous high-altitude birds and mammals provide possible examples of this phenomenon. When lowland animals colonize high-altitude environments, adaptive phenotypic plasticity can mitigate the costs of selection, thereby enhancing prospects for population establishment and persistence. By contrast, maladaptive plasticity has the opposite effect. Thus, insights into the acclimatization response of lowland animals to high-altitude hypoxia can provide a basis for predicting how altitudinal range limits might shift in response to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4125-4136
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume213
Issue number24
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

Fingerprint

Altitude Sickness
phenotypic plasticity
hypoxia
Acclimatization
Vertebrates
vertebrate
vertebrates
acclimation
Birds
Mammals
lowlands
Physiological Adaptation
Climate Change
lowland environment
mammal
Vasoconstriction
mammals
Population
bird
animals

Keywords

  • Acclimatization
  • Countergradient variation
  • Hypoxia tolerance
  • Oxygen transport
  • Physiological genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

Cite this

Phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in vertebrates. / Storz, Jay F; Scott, Graham R.; Cheviron, Zachary A.

In: Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 213, No. 24, 01.12.2010, p. 4125-4136.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Storz, Jay F ; Scott, Graham R. ; Cheviron, Zachary A. / Phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia in vertebrates. In: Journal of Experimental Biology. 2010 ; Vol. 213, No. 24. pp. 4125-4136.
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