Evolution and development are related processes although their relationship is still not well understood. Attempts to explore their relationship are challenged by scales of time and space, but also by the limitations of studies focused on specific constraints of model organisms. To help gain insight into these phenomena, we create an abstract, general model of a developmental process that guides an agent’s trajectory through a “tunably rugged” NK fitness landscape. The developmental process is represented by a genotype that is evolved and allows us to investigate periods of exploration and exploitation as they relate to periods of an agent’s lifetime and a given landscape’s difficulty. Results show that evolution selects for time-sensitive periods of exploration and exploitation, which vary with the difficulty of the landscapes being traversed. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that phenotypic diversity via random exploration present in both early and mid-life can aid the development of superior phenotypes.

This content is only available as a PDF.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.