CR 43:135-147 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/cr00897

Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability

Cindy I. Canale*, Pierre-Yves Henry

UMR 7179 CNRS-MNHN, Département Ecologie et Gestion de la Biodiversité, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle,
1 avenue du Petit Château, 91800 Brunoy, France
*Email:

ABSTRACT: As ecosystems undergo global changes, there is increasing interest in understanding how organisms respond to changing environments. Recent evidence drawn from available vertebrate studies suggests that most of the phenotypic responses to climate change would be due to plasticity. We hypothesize that organisms that have evolved in unpredictable environments inform us about the mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity which provide an adaptive response to climate instability. As climate changes increase climatic hazards, these resilience mechanisms are expected to spread within species, populations and communities. We review studies that have demonstrated the importance of phenotypic plasticity in different life-history traits in overcoming climate uncertainty. We focus on organisms from unstable, recurrently energetically restrictive environments which possess a variety of morphological, physiological and/or behavioural adaptations to climate-driven selective pressures. First, we treat plastic morphological changes in response to fluctuating food availability. Adjustment of morphometric traits and/or organ size to energy supply would be essential in harsh environments. Second, we review the role of flexible energy-saving mechanisms, such as daily torpor, hibernation and energy storage, in overcoming climate-driven energetic shortages. Lastly, we address the role of plastic modulation of reproduction in fine-tuning the energy allocation to offspring production according to environmental conditions, with an emphasis on opportunistic breeding. Overall, we predict that species (or genotypes) possessing these efficient physiological mechanisms of resilience to unpredictable water and food fluctuations will be selectively advantaged in the face of increasing climatic instability.


KEY WORDS: Physiological flexibility · Global change · Environmental variability · Extreme climatic events · Morphology · Energy saving · Reproduction


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Cite this article as: Canale CI, Henry PY (2010) Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability. Clim Res 43:135-147. https://doi.org/10.3354/cr00897

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