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Integr Comp Biol. 2017 Nov 1;57(5):921-933. doi: 10.1093/icb/icx122.

Understanding Evolutionary Impacts of Seasonality: An Introduction to the Symposium.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, 3040 Valley Life Sciences Building, Berkeley, CA 94705, USA.
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Colorado, Denver, CO, USA.
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA.
Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of California, Davis, CA, USA.
Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis, CA, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.
Department of Arctic Biology, The University Centre in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway.
Akvaplan-niva, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway.
Department of Animal Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), P.O. Box 50, 6700 AB Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Seasonality is a critically important aspect of environmental variability, and strongly shapes all aspects of life for organisms living in highly seasonal environments. Seasonality has played a key role in generating biodiversity, and has driven the evolution of extreme physiological adaptations and behaviors such as migration and hibernation. Fluctuating selection pressures on survival and fecundity between summer and winter provide a complex selective landscape, which can be met by a combination of three outcomes of adaptive evolution: genetic polymorphism, phenotypic plasticity, and bet-hedging. Here, we have identified four important research questions with the goal of advancing our understanding of evolutionary impacts of seasonality. First, we ask how characteristics of environments and species will determine which adaptive response occurs. Relevant characteristics include costs and limits of plasticity, predictability, and reliability of cues, and grain of environmental variation relative to generation time. A second important question is how phenological shifts will amplify or ameliorate selection on physiological hardiness. Shifts in phenology can preserve the thermal niche despite shifts in climate, but may fail to completely conserve the niche or may even expose life stages to conditions that cause mortality. Considering distinct environmental sensitivities of life history stages will be key to refining models that forecast susceptibility to climate change. Third, we must identify critical physiological phenotypes that underlie seasonal adaptation and work toward understanding the genetic architectures of these responses. These architectures are key for predicting evolutionary responses. Pleiotropic genes that regulate multiple responses to changing seasons may facilitate coordination among functionally related traits, or conversely may constrain the expression of optimal phenotypes. Finally, we must advance our understanding of how changes in seasonal fluctuations are impacting ecological interaction networks. We should move beyond simple dyadic interactions, such as predator prey dynamics, and understand how these interactions scale up to affect ecological interaction networks. As global climate change alters many aspects of seasonal variability, including extreme events and changes in mean conditions, organisms must respond appropriately or go extinct. The outcome of adaptation to seasonality will determine responses to climate change.

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