Publication Details

Ljungstrom, G., Wapstra, E. & Olsson, M. (2015). Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) phenology in a warming world. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 15 (1), 206-1-206-9.


Background: Present-day climate change has altered the phenology (the timing of periodic life cycle events) of many plant and animal populations worldwide. Some of these changes have been adaptive, leading to an increase in population fitness, whereas others have been associated with fitness decline. Representing short-term responses to an altered weather regime, hitherto observed changes are largely explained by phenotypic plasticity. However, to track climatically induced shifts in optimal phenotype as climate change proceeds, evolutionary capacity in key limiting climate-and fitness-related traits is likely to be crucial. In order to produce realistic predictions about the effects of climate change on species and populations, a main target for conservation biologists is thus to assess the potential of natural populations to respond by these two mechanisms. In this study we use a large 15-year dataset on an ectotherm model, the Swedish sand lizard (Lacerta agilis), to investigate how higher spring temperature is likely to affect oviposition timing in a high latitude population, a trait strongly linked to offspring fitness and survival. Results: With an interest in both the short-and potential long-term effect of rising temperatures, we applied a random regression model, which yields estimates of population-level plasticity and among-individual variation in the average, as well as the plastic, response to temperature. Population plasticity represents capacity for short-term adjustments whereas variation among individuals in a fitness-related trait indicates an opportunity for natural selection and hence for evolutionary adaptation. The analysis revealed both population-level plasticity and individual-level variation in average laying date. In contrast, we found no evidence for variation among females in their plastic responses to spring temperature, which could demonstrate a similarity in responses amongst females, but may also be due to a lack of statistical power to detect such an effect. Conclusion: Our findings indicate that climate warming may have positive fitness effects in this lizard population through an advancement of oviposition date. This prediction is consistent over shorter and potentially also longer time scales as the analysis revealed both population-level plasticity and individual-level variation in average laying date. However, the genetic basis for this variation would have to be examined in order to predict an evolutionary response.



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