Plasticity, stability, and yield: the agricultural dimensions of Anthony David Bradshaw's model of adaptive phenotypic plasticity
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British plant ecologist Anthony Bradshaw's writings in the mid-1960s are widely considered a keystone of discourse among evolutionary ecologists about the evolution of phenotypic plasticity -- the ability of an organism to respond morphologically, physiologically, or behaviorally to changes in its environment. Yet those same writings were also influential among plant breeders concerned with problems of genotype-environment interaction. Previous research has shown how Bradshaw's earliest experiments in the mid-1950s concerning plasticity in plants were rooted in the conceptual and institutional framework of post-war British agriculture. But it was not until a sabbatical year in the early 1960s at the University of California, Davis, that Bradshaw set out his ideas in print. Drawing on newly available archival materials, oral histories, and the published record, I will describe how Bradshaw's experimental and theoretical work on adaptive phenotypic plasticity in plants synthesized the British agricultural practice of genecology, controversial notions of developmental stability from cytogenetics, and the methodological and theoretical tools of agro-ecological population genetics in California. I will also describe how Bradshaw's ideas about adaptive phenotypic plasticity were tied to a dramatic reconceptualization of the temporal and spatial scales of evolutionary change, a core component of the emerging field of evolutionary population ecology in the 1960s. Bradshaw's research and ideas concerning adaptive phenotypic plasticity provides a valuable lens into the complex interrelationships between evolutionary ecology and the political, economic, and technical dimensions of post-war British and U.S. agriculture.
Given as a paper in the session, "Organisms in Changing Environments: Concepts and Contexts of Adaptability in 20th Century Plant Sciences" organized by Marci Baranski and B.R. Erick Peirson at the 2013 History of Science Society meeting in Boston, MA.