An Integrative Framework for Understanding the Mechanisms and Multigenerational Consequences of Transgenerational Plasticity

Alison M. Bell, Jennifer K. Hellmann

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Transgenerational plasticity (TGP) occurs when the environment experienced by a parent influences the development of their offspring. In this article, we develop a framework for understanding the mechanisms and multigenerational consequences of TGP. First, we conceptualize the mechanisms of TGP in the context of communication between parents (senders) and offspring (receivers) by dissecting the steps between an environmental cue received by a parent and its resulting effects on the phenotype of one or more future generations. Breaking down the problem in this way highlights the diversity of mechanisms likely to be involved in the process. Second, we review the literature on multigenerational effects and find that the documented patterns across generations are diverse. We categorize different multigenerational patterns and explore the proximate and ultimate mechanisms that can generate them. Throughout, we highlight opportunities for future work in this dynamic and integrative area of study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-118
Number of pages22
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • behavioral development
  • biological embedding
  • epigenetics
  • maternal effects
  • nongenetic inheritance
  • parental effects
  • phenotypic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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