Environmentally induced phenotypic variation in wild yellow-bellied marmots

Adriana A. Maldonado-Chaparro* (Corresponding Author), Julien G. A. Martin, Kenneth B. Armitage, Madan K. Oli, Daniel T. Blumstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
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Phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an individual to modify its phenotype according to the conditions it experiences, is a source of between-individual variation and a mechanism by which individuals can cope with environmental change. Plasticity is expected to evolve in response to environmental heterogeneity, such as seasonality and year-to-year variation. We aimed to characterize patterns of phenotypic change in morphological (body mass), life-history (reproductive success and litter size), and social (embeddedness) traits of female yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) in response to climatic and social variation. We used data collected over 36 years on a population of yellow-bellied marmots studied in Colorado. We used mixed effect models to explore phenotypically plastic responses and tested for individual variation in mean trait values (i.e., intercept) and in plasticity (i.e., slope). All examined traits were plastic, and the population's average plastic response often differed between spatially distinct colonies that varied systematically in timing of snowmelt, among age classes, and between females with different previous reproductive experiences. Moreover, we showed individual differences in June mass and pup mass plasticity. We suggest that plasticity plays a key role buffering the effects of continuous changes in environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

We thank all the marmoteers who helped in data collection and 2 anonymous reviewers who helped us to clarify our message. AM-C was supported by a Fulbright Fellowship, and JGAM was supported by Fond Québécois de Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies. KBA was supported by the National Science Foundation between 1962 and 2000. DTB was supported by the National Geographic Society, UCLA (Faculty Senate and the Division of Life Sciences), a Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory research fellowship, and by the National Science Foundation (IDBR-0754247 and DEB-1119660 to DTB as well as DBI 0242960 and 0731346 to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory).


  • environmental change
  • individual variation
  • life-history traits
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • yellow-bellied marmots


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