American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation in a wild hibernator evaluated through reciprocal translocation”

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Jeffrey E. Lane, Zenon J. Czenze, Rachel Findlay-Robinson, and Erin Bayne (Special Feature on Maladaptation)


Phenological shifts are the most commonly reported ecological responses to climate change, and can be produced rapidly by phenotypic plasticity. However, both the limits of plasticity, and whether it will be sufficient to maintain local adaptation (or even lead to maladaptation) are less clear. Increased winter precipitation has been shown to lead to phenological delays and corresponding annual decreases in fitness in Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus). We took advantage of natural phenological variation (across elevations) in this species to better assess the extent of phenotypic plasticity in emergence dates and the relationships between emergence dates and individual annual fitness. We coupled a reciprocal translocation experiment with natural monitoring across two populations separated by approximately 500 m in elevation. Individuals in both populations responded plastically to both spring temperature and winter precipitation. Translocated individuals adjusted their emergence dates to approach those of individuals in their adoptive populations, but did differ significantly in their emergence dates from residents. There were no differences in annual fitness among treatment groups, nor selection on emergent date within a year. Phenotypic plasticity is thus sufficient to allow individuals to respond to broad environmental gradients, but the influence of variation in emergence dates on annual fitness requires further investigation.