Evol Ecol Res 13: 647-659 (2011)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Exploring the functional association between physiological plasticity, climatic variability, and geographical latitude: lessons from land snails

Daniel E. Naya1,2, Tamara Catalán2, Paulina Artacho3*, Juan Diego Gaitán-Espitia3 and Roberto F. Nespolo3

1Departamento de Ecología y Evolución, Facultad de Ciencias & Centro Universitario de la Regional Este, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay,  2Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, P. Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile and 3Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Evolutivas, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile

Correspondence: D.E. Naya, Sección Evolución (Piso 6, Ala Norte), Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República, Montevideo 11400, Uruguay.
e-mail: dnaya@fcien.edu.uy


Background: The climatic variability hypothesis states that, as the range of climatic fluctuation experienced by terrestrial animals increases with latitude, individuals at higher latitudes should be more plastic than individuals inhabiting lower latitudes. However, it is unclear whether comparatively high flexibility at higher latitudes is due to the direct effect of climatic variability or to other factors associated with latitude.

Aim: To investigate the relationship between phenotypic flexibility, geographical latitude, and climatic variability using a dataset where latitude and climatic variability are inversely related.

Methods: We assessed the physiological plasticity to cope with thermal change (10°C vs. 20°C), at the level of metabolic rate and organ dry weight, in three populations of the brown garden snail (Cornu aspersum): Viña del Mar (33°20′S, 71°32′W), with high temperature and rainfall variability; Concepción (36°47′S, 73°7′W), with a narrow range of temperature variability and intermediate rainfall variability; and Valdivia (39°38′S, 73°5′W), with low temperature and rainfall variability.

Results: Standard metabolic rate was higher at 20°C than at 10°C, but did not differ between populations. Intestine dry weight did not differ among populations but it was higher at 20°C than at 10°C, particularly for individuals from the Viña del Mar and Concepción populations. Hepatopancreas and kidney dry weight differed between populations, which was due to higher values in Viña del Mar at 20°C.

Conclusions: Flexibility in the weight of the organs analysed changed in a similar fashion to annual temperature variation at each locality, suggesting that, as stated by the climatic variability hypothesis, climatic variability is the main force behind physiological plasticity.

Keywords: climatic variability hypothesis, Cornu aspersum, digestive flexibility, macrophysiology, metabolic rate, phenotypic plasticity.

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