Latitudinal patterns in phenotypic plasticity: the case of seasonal flexibility in lizards’ fat body size
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Several studies published over the last years suggest that the ability of many species to cope with global change will be closely related to the current amount of plasticity for fitness-related traits. Thus, disentangling general patterns in phenotypic flexibility, which could be then included in models aimed to predict changes in species distribution, represent a central goal in the current ecological agenda. The climatic variability hypothesis (CVH) could be considered a timely and promising hypothesis since it provides an explicit link between climatic and geographic variables and phenotypic plasticity. Specifically, the CVH states that as the range of climatic fluctuation experienced by terrestrial animals increases with latitude, individuals at higher latitudes should present greater levels of phenotypic flexibility. Within this framework, here we evaluate the existence of latitudinal patterns in fat body size flexibility—estimated as the difference between maximum and minimum fat body size values observed throughout a year—for 59 lizard species, comprising the first evaluation of the CVH for a trait, other than thermic or metabolic characters, in ectothermic species. Conventional and phylogenetic analyses indicated a positive relationship between fat body size flexibility and latitude, and also between flexibility and temperature variability indexes. Together with previous findings our results suggest that: (1) latitudinal pattern for fitness-related traits, other than thermal characters, are beginning to emerge; (2) latitude is usually a better predictor of phenotypic plasticity than putative climatic variables; (3) hemispheric differences in climatic variability appears to be correlated with hemispheric differences in phenotypic plasticity.
KeywordsClimatic variability hypothesis Climate change Macrophysiology Organ size Phenotypic plasticity
We thank Santiago Gonzalez-Volpe for help with building the data base, Hugo Naya for help with phylogenetic analyses, and Carolina Abud and two anonymous reviewers for useful suggestions for the manuscript. This manuscript was produced during a research stay of the first author at the Universidad de la República, Uruguay, funded by ECONS (CYTED network 410RT0406). The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.
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