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Seeing spots: quantifying mother-offspring similarity and assessing fitness consequences of coat pattern traits in a wild population of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)


Lee, Derek E; Cavener, Douglas R; Bond, Monica L (2018). Seeing spots: quantifying mother-offspring similarity and assessing fitness consequences of coat pattern traits in a wild population of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis). PeerJ, 6:e5690.

Abstract

Polymorphic phenotypes of mammalian coat coloration have been important to the study of genetics and evolution, but less is known about the inheritance and fitness consequences of individual variation in complex coat pattern traits such as spots and stripes. Giraffe coat markings are highly complex and variable and it has been hypothesized that variation in coat patterns most likely affects fitness by camouflaging neonates against visually hunting predators. We quantified complex coat pattern traits of wild Masai giraffes using image analysis software, determined the similarity of spot pattern traits between mother and offspring, and assessed whether variation in spot pattern traits was related to fitness as measured by juvenile survival. The methods we described could comprise a framework for objective quantification of complex mammal coat pattern traits based on photographic coat pattern data. We demonstrated that some characteristics of giraffe coat spot shape were likely to be heritable, as measured by mother-offspring regression. We found significant variation in juvenile survival among phenotypic groups of neonates defined by multivariate clustering based on spot trait measurement variables. We also found significant variation in neonatal survival associated with spot size and shape covariates. Larger spots (smaller number of spots) and irregularly shaped or rounder spots (smaller aspect ratio) were correlated with increased survival. These findings will inform investigations into developmental and genetic architecture of complex mammal coat patterns and their adaptive value.

Abstract

Polymorphic phenotypes of mammalian coat coloration have been important to the study of genetics and evolution, but less is known about the inheritance and fitness consequences of individual variation in complex coat pattern traits such as spots and stripes. Giraffe coat markings are highly complex and variable and it has been hypothesized that variation in coat patterns most likely affects fitness by camouflaging neonates against visually hunting predators. We quantified complex coat pattern traits of wild Masai giraffes using image analysis software, determined the similarity of spot pattern traits between mother and offspring, and assessed whether variation in spot pattern traits was related to fitness as measured by juvenile survival. The methods we described could comprise a framework for objective quantification of complex mammal coat pattern traits based on photographic coat pattern data. We demonstrated that some characteristics of giraffe coat spot shape were likely to be heritable, as measured by mother-offspring regression. We found significant variation in juvenile survival among phenotypic groups of neonates defined by multivariate clustering based on spot trait measurement variables. We also found significant variation in neonatal survival associated with spot size and shape covariates. Larger spots (smaller number of spots) and irregularly shaped or rounder spots (smaller aspect ratio) were correlated with increased survival. These findings will inform investigations into developmental and genetic architecture of complex mammal coat patterns and their adaptive value.

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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)
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > General Neuroscience
Life Sciences > General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
Life Sciences > General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, General Neuroscience, General Agricultural and Biological Sciences, General Medicine
Language:English
Date:2 October 2018
Deposited On:22 Nov 2018 13:20
Last Modified:15 Apr 2020 21:47
Publisher:PeerJ, Ltd.
ISSN:2167-8359
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5690
Project Information:
  • : FunderSacramento Zoological Society
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderColumbus Zoo and Aquarium
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderTulsa Zoo
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderCincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderTierpark Berlin
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderSave the Giraffes
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title

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