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J Comp Physiol B. 2001 Nov;171(8):669-79.

Developmental and acclimatory contributions to water loss in a desert rodent: investigating the time course of adaptive change.

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Department of Biology, Arizona State University, Tempe 85287-1501, USA.


Understanding the evolution of physiological traits requires considering three nonexclusive mechanisms that underlie phenotypes and cause their change over different time scales: acclimation, developmental plasticity, and natural selection for genetically fixed traits. Physiological adjustments to changes in the desiccating potential of the environment were investigated with one subspecies of common desert rodent, Dipodomys merriami merriami (Merriam's kangaroo rat). We raised young whose parents originated from environments that differ in both temperature and humidity. These young were raised under either desiccating or water-abundant conditions, and their water loss was measured at a series of temperatures to determine the effect developmental conditions have on resistance to desiccation. We then determined the contribution of acclimation to desiccation resistance by keeping the differentially raised young in conditions opposite to those during their development and again measuring water loss. We found that developmental plasticity and acclimation can completely account for the existing intraspecific variability in desiccation resistance under certain conditions. In fact, developmental and acclimatory changes can equal genetically based differences of the populations. This phenotypic plasticity can operate relatively quickly and therefore may attenuate the actions of natural selection. Understanding the extent and nature of such flexibility is critical to our understanding intraspecific variability and the consequences of changing climate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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