SICB 2016: Plasticity versus Adaptation in Tolerance for Dry Habitats

How does the environment an organism experiences during development influence its phenotype, and does the development environment prepare the organism for success in its habitat? Corey Cates, now a Ph.D. student in the Warner Lab at Auburn University, used Anolis lizards to answer this question at the SICB meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Because anoles do not practice parental care, once a female lays an egg, the embryo is at the mercy of the environment. Soil conditions, such as moisture and temperature, will influence how the embryo develops, and can have lasting impacts on that organism’s phenotype. Furthermore, a lizard is expected to have highest fitness when its phenotype matches its environment. Cates designed an experiment that manipulated the development environment, and examined the desiccation performance and survival of hatchlings, following them into adulthood. Anolis sagrei that hatched from eggs left in dry, poor-quality soil experienced lower desiccation rates than those from eggs in moist, high-quality soil. Building upon previously-presented work, Cates showed that adult desiccation tolerance was not heritable. After following adult lizards from each treatment released into both high and low-quality habitats for more than a year, Cates found that desiccation trends persisted, and that organisms from dry incubation conditions performed better in dry habitats than those incubated in more favorable conditions. This study is a fascinating look into how anoles may handle changing climates in the future.

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