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Behavioural plasticity may compensate for climate change in a long-lived reptile with temperature-dependent sex determination

By Jeanine M. Refsnider and Fredric J. Janzen


How are organisms responding to climate change? The rapidity with which climate is changing suggests that, in species with long generation times, adaptive evolution may be too slow to keep pace with climate change, and that alternative mechanisms, such as behavioural plasticity, may be necessary for population persistence. Species with temperature-dependent sex determination may be particularly threatened by climate change, because altered temperatures could skew sex ratios. We experimentally tested nest-site choice in the long-lived turtle Chrysemys picta to determine whether nesting behaviour can compensate for potential skews in sex ratios caused by rapid climate change. We collected females from five populations across the species′ range and housed them in a semi-natural common garden. Under these identical conditions, populations differed in nesting phenology (likely due to nesting frequency), and in nest depth (possibly due to a latitudinal cline in female body size), but did not differ in choice of shade cover over the nest, nest incubation regime, or in resultant nest sex ratios. These results suggest that choice of nest sites with particular shade cover may be a behaviourally plastic mechanism by which turtles can compensate for change in climatic temperatures during embryonic development, provided that sufficient environmental variation in potential nest microhabitat is available

Topics: Chrysemys picta, common garden, geographic variation, painted turtle, phenology, sex ratio, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Evolution, Population Biology, Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology, Zoology
Publisher: Iowa State University Digital Repository
Year: 2012
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