Phenotypic plasticity is the ability of a single genotype to display multiple phenotypes based on environmental conditions (Whitman, D., & Ananthakrishnan, T. N., 2009). This phenomenon is most common in insects but is present in other organisms. According to scientists, human cells display plasticity. The different cells have almost identical DNA, but have very different functions (Forsman, 2014). There is passive and active plasticity. Passive plasticity occurs when the environment has a direct effect on the organism. An example of this is an insect that has stunted growth due to low availability of resources. Active plasticity occurs when an organism makes a modification in anticipation for changing environmental conditions. An example of this would be two moths of the same species that have different coloration due to differences in habitat or diet (Whitman, D., & Ananthakrishnan, T. N., 2009).

Phenotypic plasticity can occur in different scales. It can range from a single genotype in one individual to all organisms in a single population. On a time scale it can occur immediately or may be multigenerational (Forsman, 2014). On an organism level changes can affect only one trait or may change the organism’s entire appearance. Modifications can be temporary such as behavioral changes or can be permanent such as morphological changes. (Forsman, 2014).


Forsman, A. 2014. Rethinking phenotypic plasticity and its consequences for individuals, populations and species. Heredity.

Whitman, D., & Ananthakrishnan, T. N. (Eds.). (2009). Phenotypic plasticity of insects: mechanisms and consequences. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers.