Evolutionary ecology of endocrine-mediated life-history variation in the garter snake Thamnophis elegans

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2009-03-01
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Sparkman, Amanda
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Vleck, Carol
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Bronikowski, Anne
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology seeks to teach the studies of ecology (organisms and their environment), evolutionary theory (the origin and interrelationships of organisms), and organismal biology (the structure, function, and biodiversity of organisms). In doing this, it offers several majors which are codirected with other departments, including biology, genetics, and environmental sciences.

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The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology was founded in 2003 as a merger of the Department of Botany, the Department of Microbiology, and the Department of Zoology and Genetics.

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2003–present

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The endocrine system plays an integral role in the regulation of key life-history traits. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a hormone that promotes growth and reproduction, and it has been implicated in the reduction of lifespan. IGF-1 is also capable of responding plastically to environmental stimuli such as resource availability and temperature. Thus pleiotropic control of life-history traits by IGF-1 could provide a mechanism for the evolution of correlated life-history traits in a new or changing environment. An ideal system in which to investigate the role of IGF-1 in life-history evolution exists in two ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans, which derive from a single recent ancestral source but have evolved genetically divergent life-history characteristics. Snakes from meadow populations near Eagle Lake, California (USA) exhibit slower growth rates, lower annual reproductive output, and longer median adult lifespans relative to populations along the lakeshore. We hypothesized that the IGF-1 system has differentiated between these ecotypes and can account for increased growth and reproduction and reduced survival in lakeshore vs. meadow snakes. We tested for a difference in plasma IGF-1 levels in free-ranging snakes from replicate populations of each ecotype over three years. IGF-1 levels were significantly associated with adult body size, reproductive output, and season in a manner that reflects established differences in prey ecology and age/size-specific reproduction between the ecotypes. These findings are discussed in the context of theoretical expectations for a trade-off between reproduction and lifespan that is mediated by pleiotropic endocrine mechanisms.

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This article is from Ecology 90 (2009); 720, doi: 10.1890/08-0850.1. Posted with permission.

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Thu Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2009
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