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Integrating the ecological and evolutionary consequences of phenological change in a wild mammal system

Final Report Summary - PHENOLOGICAL CHANGES (Integrating the ecological and evolutionary consequences of phenological change in a wild mammal system)

Global climatic change is already having dramatic impacts on the biology of many plant and animal populations. Despite this, exactly how natural populations will respond to projected environmental change remains poorly understood. Environmental change will alter natural selection acting on plant and animal populations, with consequences for the distributions of phenotypic traits that influence fitness, and ultimately for population demography and persistence. The primary goal of the project was to develop and apply an integrative approach to understanding how phenotypic selection changes as a consequence of environmental variation, and what consequences these changes have for trait distributions, life history trade-offs and population dynamics. The study was integrative in the sense that 1) it combined behavioural ecology, life-history theory, population dynamic models and quantitative genetic theory; and 2) it addressed the whole phenotype – including morphology and life history, but also behaviour (anti-predatory vigilance, docility and sociality) and physiology (endocrine state, immune function). Such an integrative study of the consequences of climate-induced phenological change had not previously been done. The project focused mainly on 3 points: 1) How does multivariate selection change – qualitatively and quantitatively- with environmental conditions (i.e. spring climate, population density)?; 2) What is the genetic covariance structure underlying multivariate phenotypic distributions, and what role does GxE play in their determination?; 3) How will environmental-sensitivity of traits and their evolutionary parameters affect the fundamental trade-off between reproduction and survival?

The study was carried out using data from a natural population of yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), Colorado, United States. This population has been followed for over 50 years which is the third longest individual-based study on mammals in the world.

Five articles related to the project were published, two were invited for resubmission and 3 more will be submitted. The results of the project were also presented at six international conferences and 4 invited seminars.

The main results show no changes in selection and no changes in heritability with the change in environment and no causal effect of the environment on the observed changes in fitness. In addition, strong changes in environmental effects and additive genetic variance were found across ontogeny. Despite using one of the longest dataset available on a wild mammal, none of the expected evolutionary changes due to environmental changes were found. This sheds a new light on the impact of environmental changes and their consequences for a wild population in both the short and long term.


Scientist in charge
Professor Jane Reid
Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Aberdeen
Zoology Building, Tillydrone Avenue
Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ
United-Kingdom
Tel:+(44) 01224 274224
Email:jane.reid@abdn.ac.uk

Marie-Curie Fellow
Dr. Julien Martin
Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Aberdeen
Zoology Building, Tillydrone Avenue
Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ
United-Kingdom
Tel:+(44) 01224 272399
Email:julienmartin@abdn.ac.uk