Consistent within-individual plasticity is sufficient to explain temperature responses in red deer reproductive traits

Hannah Froy*, Julien Martin, Katie V. Stopher, Alison Morris, Sean Morris, Tim H. Clutton-Brock, Josephine M. Pemberton, Loeske E.B. Kruuk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Warming global temperatures are affecting a range of aspects of wild populations, but the exact mechanisms driving associations between temperature and phenotypic traits may be difficult to identify. Here, we use a 36-year data set on a wild population of red deer to investigate the causes of associations between temperature and two important components of female reproduction: timing of breeding and offspring size. By separating within- versus between-individual associations with temperature for each trait, we show that within-individual phenotypic plasticity (changes within a female's lifetime) was entirely sufficient to generate the observed population-level association with temperature at key times of year. However, despite apparently adequate statistical power, we found no evidence of any variation between females in their responses (i.e. no “IxE” interactions). Our results suggest that female deer show plasticity in reproductive traits in response to temperatures in the year leading up to calving and that this response is consistent across individuals, implying no potential for either selection or heritability of plasticity. We estimate that the plastic response to rising temperatures explained 24% of the observed advance in mean calving date over the study period. We highlight the need for comparable analyses of other systems to determine the contribution of within-individual plasticity to population-level responses to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1194-1206
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Scottish Natural Heritage for permission to work on the Isle of Rum National Nature Reserve, their staff on Rum for support and assistance and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on previous versions of the manuscript. We are grateful to all those involved in the long-term study of red deer on the Isle of Rum, particularly Martyn Baker and Fiona Guinness, and database guru Ian Stevenson for his assistance with weather data. The work was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council grant to LK and JP; LK was also supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship FT110100453.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Society for Evolutionary Biology


  • advancing phenology
  • climate change
  • IxE
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • within-subject centring


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