Interplay of robustness and plasticity of life history traits in habitats with different thermal regimes

M. Liefting*, R.H.A. van Grunsven, M.B.M. Morrissey, M. Timmermans, J. Ellers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Phenotypic plasticity describes the ability of an individual to alter its phenotype in response to the environment and is potentially adaptive when dealing with environmental variation. However, robustness in the face of a changing environment may often be beneficial for traits that are tightly linked to fitness. We hypothesized that robustness of some traits may depend on specific patterns of plasticity within and among other traits. We used a reaction norm approach to study robustness and phenotypic plasticity of three life-history traits of the collembolan Orchesella cincta in environments with different thermal regimes. We measured adult mass, age at maturity and growth rate of males and females from heath and forest habitats at two temperatures (12 and 22 °C). We found evidence for ecotype-specific robustness of female adult mass to temperature, with a higher level of robustness in the heath ecotype. This robustness is facilitated by plastic adjustments of growth rate and age at maturity. Furthermore, female fecundity is strongly influenced by female adult mass, explaining the importance of realizing a high mass across temperatures for females. These findings indicate that different predicted outcomes of life-history theory can be combined within one species' ontogeny and that models describing life-history strategies should not assume that traits like growth rate are maximized under all conditions. On a methodological note, we report a systematic inflation of variation when standard deviations and correlation coefficients are calculated from family means as opposed to individual data within a family structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1057-1066
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • orchesella-cincta collembola
  • wild bird population
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • reaction norms
  • genetic-structure
  • environmental canalization
  • drosophila-melanogaster
  • indeterminate growth
  • soil arthropod
  • evolution


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