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Integr Comp Biol. 2004 Dec;44(6):443-9. doi: 10.1093/icb/44.6.443.

The physiological basis of reaction norms: the interaction among growth rate, the duration of growth and body size.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721.


The general effects of temperature and nutritional quality on growth rate and body size are well known. We know little, however, about the physiological mechanisms by which an organism translates variation in diet and temperature into reaction norms of body size or development time. We outline an endocrine-based physiological mechanism that helps explain how this translation occurs in the holometabolous insect Manduca sexta (Sphingidae). Body size and development time are controlled by three factors: (i) growth rate, (ii) the timing of the cessation of juvenile hormone secretion (measured by the critical weight) and (iii) the timing of ecdysteroid secretion leading to pupation (the interval to cessation of growth [ICG] after reaching the critical weight). Thermal reaction norms of body size and development time are a function of how these three factors interact with temperature. Body size is smaller at higher temperatures, because the higher growth rate decreases the ICG, thereby reducing the amount of mass that can accumulate. Development time is shorter at higher temperatures because the higher growth rate decreases the time required to attain the critical weight and, independently, controls the duration of the ICG. Life history evolution along altitudinal, latitudinal and seasonal gradients may occur through differential selection on growth rate and the duration of the two independently controlled determinants of the growth period.

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