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Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability


Canale, C I; Henry, P Y (2010). Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability. Climate Research, 43(1):135-147.

Abstract

As ecosystems undergo global changes, there is increasing interest in understanding how organisms respond to changing environments. Recent evidence drawn from available vertebrate studies suggests that most of the phenotypic responses to climate change would be due to plasticity. We hypothesize that organisms that have evolved in unpredictable environments inform us about the mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity which provide an adaptive response to climate instability. As climate changes increase climatic hazards, these resilience mechanisms are expected to spread within species, populations and communities. We review studies that have demonstrated the importance of phenotypic plasticity in different life-history traits in overcoming climate uncertainty. We focus on organisms from unstable, recurrently energetically restrictive environments which possess a variety of morphological, physiological and/or behavioural adaptations to climate-driven selective pressures. First, we treat plastic morphological changes in response to fluctuating food availability. Adjustment of morphometric traits and/or organ size to energy supply would be essential in harsh environments. Second, we review the role of flexible energy-saving mechanisms, such as daily torpor, hibernation and energy storage, in overcoming climate-driven energetic shortages. Lastly, we address the role of plastic modulation of reproduction in fine-tuning the energy allocation to offspring production according to environmental conditions, with an emphasis on opportunistic breeding. Overall, we predict that species (or genotypes) possessing these efficient physiological mechanisms of resilience to unpredictable water and food fluctuations will be selectively advantaged in the face of increasing climatic instability.

Abstract

As ecosystems undergo global changes, there is increasing interest in understanding how organisms respond to changing environments. Recent evidence drawn from available vertebrate studies suggests that most of the phenotypic responses to climate change would be due to plasticity. We hypothesize that organisms that have evolved in unpredictable environments inform us about the mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity which provide an adaptive response to climate instability. As climate changes increase climatic hazards, these resilience mechanisms are expected to spread within species, populations and communities. We review studies that have demonstrated the importance of phenotypic plasticity in different life-history traits in overcoming climate uncertainty. We focus on organisms from unstable, recurrently energetically restrictive environments which possess a variety of morphological, physiological and/or behavioural adaptations to climate-driven selective pressures. First, we treat plastic morphological changes in response to fluctuating food availability. Adjustment of morphometric traits and/or organ size to energy supply would be essential in harsh environments. Second, we review the role of flexible energy-saving mechanisms, such as daily torpor, hibernation and energy storage, in overcoming climate-driven energetic shortages. Lastly, we address the role of plastic modulation of reproduction in fine-tuning the energy allocation to offspring production according to environmental conditions, with an emphasis on opportunistic breeding. Overall, we predict that species (or genotypes) possessing these efficient physiological mechanisms of resilience to unpredictable water and food fluctuations will be selectively advantaged in the face of increasing climatic instability.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Physiological flexibility · Global change · Environmental variability · Extreme climatic events · Morphology · Energy saving · Reproduction
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:12 Mar 2014 10:03
Last Modified:07 Dec 2017 08:08
Publisher:Inter Research
ISSN:0936-577X
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3354/cr00897

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