latent mutation

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Sat 03 May 2003 - 13:34:36 GMT

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    I'm reading "Darwin's Cathedral" by David Sloan Wilson and I have a general evolution question. Suppose a species initially evolves under circumstances where there is an advantage to having a drab grey color to provide circumstances. Then suppose circumstances change so that spot provide more of an advantage. Over time the species evolves an elaborate biochemical mechanism for spots that allows the species to survive effectively in this new environment. Next suppose the environment changes back so that drab grey is now more effective. Organisms can go back to drab without unevolving the entire mechanism for spots. Instead they can just have point mutations that disable the spots. Then if the environment changes again so that spots are better, instead of re-evolving the whole spot system again, all that is necessary is that a few individuals lose the point mutations preventing spots from being expressed. This means that spots can reappear much more quickly the second time than they did the first time.

    So my question is, are there any real examples of this occurring in nature? Is there a term that is used to describe this phenomenon?

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