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Oecologia. 2007 Aug;153(2):309-21. Epub 2007 May 8.

Phenotypic plasticity in a complex world: interactive effects of food and temperature on fitness components of a seed beetle.

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  • 1Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, S225 Agricultural Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, USA.


Most studies of phenotypic plasticity investigate the effects of an individual environmental factor on organism phenotypes. However, organisms exist in an ecologically complex world where multiple environmental factors can interact to affect growth, development and life histories. Here, using a multifactorial experimental design, we examine the separate and interactive effects of two environmental factors, rearing host species (Vigna radiata, Vigna angularis and Vigna unguiculata) and temperature (20, 25, 30 and 35 degrees C), on growth and life history traits in two populations [Burkina Faso (BF) and South India (SI)] of the seed beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus. The two study populations of beetles responded differently to both rearing host and temperature. We also found a significant interaction between rearing host and temperature for body size, growth rate and female lifetime fecundity but not larval development time or larval survivorship. The interaction was most apparent for growth rate; the variance in growth rate among hosts increased with increasing temperature. However, the details of host differences differed between our two study populations; the degree to which V. unguiculata was a better host than V. angularis or V. radiata increased at higher temperatures for BF beetles, whereas the degree to which V. unguiculata was the worst host increased at higher temperatures for SI beetles. We also found that the heritabilities of body mass, growth rate and fecundity were similar among rearing hosts and temperatures, and that the cross-temperature genetic correlation was not affected by rearing host, suggesting that genetic architecture is generally stable across rearing conditions. The most important finding of our study is that multiple environmental factors can interact to affect organism growth, but the degree of interaction, and thus the degree of complexity of phenotypic plasticity, varies among traits and between populations.

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