Phenotypic plasticity and diversified bet hedging are strategies for coping with variable environments. Plasticity is favoured when an organism can predict future conditions using environmental cues, while bet hedging is favoured when predictive cues are not available. Theoretical analyses suggest that many organisms should use a mixture of both strategies, because environments often present both scenarios. Here, we examine if the pea aphid wing polyphenism, a well-known case of plasticity, is potentially a mixture of plasticity and bet hedging. In this polyphenism, asexual females produce more winged offspring in crowded conditions, and wingless offspring in uncrowded conditions. We find that pea aphids use plasticity to respond to crowding and we find considerable genetic variation for this response. We further show that individual aphids produce both winged and wingless offspring, consistent with the variability expected in a bet hedging trait. We conclude that the pea aphid wing polyphenism system is probably a mixture of plasticity and bet hedging. Our study adds to a limited list of empirical studies examining mixed strategy usage, and suggests that mixed strategies may be common in dispersal traits.
- Received August 8, 2016.
- Accepted September 27, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.