Geographic variation in body size, sexual size dimorphism and fitness components of a seed beetle: Local adaptation versus phenotypic plasticity

R. Craig Stillwell, Charles W. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Variation in body size, growth and life history traits of ectotherms along latitudinal and altitudinal clines is generally assumed to represent adaptation to local environmental conditions, especially adaptation to temperature. However, the degree to which variation along these clines is due to adaptation vs plasticity remains poorly understood. In addition, geographic patterns often differ between females and males - e.g. sexual dimorphism varies along latitudinal clines, but the extent to which these sex differences are due to genetic differences between sexes vs sex differences in plasticity is poorly understood. We use common garden experiments (beetles reared at 24, 30 and 36°C) to quantify the relative contribution of genetically-based differentiation among populations vs phenotypic plasticity to variation in body size and other traits among six populations of the seed-feeding beetle Stator limbatus collected from various altitudes in Arizona, USA. We found that temperature induces substantial plasticity in survivorship, body size and female lifetime fecundity, indicating that developmental temperature significantly affects growth and life history traits of S. limbatus. We also detected genetic differences among populations for body size and fecundity, and genetic differences among populations in thermal reaction norms, but the altitude of origin (and hence mean temperature) does not appear to explain these genetic differences. This and other recent studies suggest that temperature is not the major environmental factor that generates geographic variation in traits of this species. In addition, though there was no overall difference in plasticity of body size between males and females (when averaged across populations), we did find that the degree to which dimorphism changed with temperature varied among populations. Consequently, future studies should be extremely cautious when using only a few study populations to examine environmental effects on sexual dimorphism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-712
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Geographic variation in body size, sexual size dimorphism and fitness components of a seed beetle: Local adaptation versus phenotypic plasticity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this