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Too Slow to Evolve? Behavioral Plasticity May Compensate

Refsnider, J.M. and Janzen, F.J. 2012. Behavioural plasticity may compensate for climate change in a long-lived reptile with temperature-dependent sex determination. Biological Conservation 152: 90-95.
Citing Lavergne et al. (2010), Refsnider and Janzen (2012) write that "adaptation to climate change may be impossible even when high genetic variation is present if the rate of environmental change is too rapid and the population demography is insufficiently dynamic," adding that "species with temperature-dependent sex determination may be particularly threatened by climate change, because altered temperatures could skew sex ratios."

To explore this subject in greater depth, Refsnider and Janzen experimentally tested nest-site choice in the long-lived turtle Chrysemys picta, in order to see if nesting behavior "could compensate for potential skews in sex ratios caused by rapid climate change." This they did by collecting females from five different populations spread across the species' range, housing them in a semi-natural common garden, and waiting to see what would happen. So what did they learn?

The two researchers report that "females from transplanted populations showed similar choice of shade cover over nests to local females," which suggests, in their words, that "behavioral phenotypic plasticity in female choice of shade cover over the nest site may comprise an immediate mechanism by which long-lived reptiles with temperature-dependent sex determination can avoid skews in sex ratio potentially caused by rapid climate change."

Additional Reference
Lavergne, S., Mouquet, N., Thuiller, W. and Ronce, O. 2010. Biodiversity and climate change: integrating evolutionary and ecological responses of species and communities. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 41: 321-350.

Archived 30 April 2013