Among-individual heterogeneity in maternal behaviour and physiology affects reproductive allocation and offspring life-history traits in the garter snake <i>Thamnophis elegans</i>

7 September 2017

Gangloff, Eric; Sparkman, Amanda; Bronikowski, Anne

Accumulating evidence suggests that within-individual plasticity of behavioural and physiological traits is limited, resulting in stable among-individual differences in these aspects of the phenotype. Furthermore, these traits often covary within individuals, resulting in a continuum of correlated phenotypic variation among individuals within populations and species. This heterogeneity, in turn, affects individual fitness and can have cross-generational effects. Patterns of trait covariation, among-individual differences, and subsequent fitness consequences have long been recognized in reptiles. Here, we provide a test of patterns of among-individual heterogeneity in behaviour and physiology and subsequent effects on reproduction and offspring fitness in the garter snake Thamnophis elegans. We find that measures of activity levels vary among individuals and are consistent within individuals in reproductive female snakes, indicating stable behavioural phenotypes. Blood hormone and glucose concentrations are not as stable within individuals, indicating that these traits do not describe consistent physiological phenotypes. Nonetheless, the major axes of variation in maternal traits describe behavioural and physiological phenotypes that interact to predict offspring body condition and mass at birth. This differential allocation of energy to offspring, in turn, strongly influences subsequent offspring growth and survival. This pattern suggests the potential for strong selection on phenotypes defined by behaviour-physiology interactions.