Individuals are constantly ‘adapting’ to their surroundings throughout their lifetime. Conditions vary rhythmically – e.g. sunrise/set, tidal fluxes, seasons – and stochastically – e.g. rainfall, hurricanes. The ability to adapt to these variations may be the basis by which species will adapt to changes in the scale of environmental variability, such as more severe and frequent weather events.
Embryos and larvae in the water column are capable of receiving environmental cues and of responding with adaptive tuning of phenotypes – including developmental timing, morphogenesis, and/or behavior. The ability to vary phenotypes in embryos/larvae has been documented across multiple phyla in response to different environmental parameters, but the molecular mechanisms and the functional ecological and evolutionary consequences are just now being illuminated.