The Evolution of Variance Control
Genetically identical individuals can be phenotypically variable, even in constant environmental conditions. The ubiquity of this phenomenon, known as ‘intra-genotypic variability’, is increasingly evident and the relevant mechanistic underpinnings are beginning to be understood. In parallel, theory has delineated a number of formal expectations for contexts in which such a feature would be adaptive. Here, we review empirical evidence across biological systems and theoretical expectations, including nonlinear averaging and bet hedging. We synthesize existing results to illustrate the dependence of selection outcomes both on trait characteristics, features of environmental variability, and species’ demographic context. We conclude by discussing ways to bridge the gap between empirical evidence of intra-genotypic variability, studies demonstrating its genetic component, and evidence that it is adaptive.