Trait variation in extreme thermal environments under constant and fluctuating temperatures
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Trait variation in extreme thermal environments under constant and fluctuating temperatures

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    Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2019 Mar 18;374(1768):20180177.
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    Climate change is increasingly exposing populations to rare and novel environmental conditions. Theory suggests that extreme conditions will expose cryptic phenotypes, with a concomitant increase in trait variation. Although some empirical support for this exists, it is also well established that physiological mechanisms (e.g. heat shock protein expression) change when organisms are exposed to constant versus fluctuating temperatures. To determine the effect of common, rare and novel temperatures on the release of hidden variation, we exposed fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas, to five fluctuating and four constant temperature regimes (constant treatments: 23.5, 25, 28.5 and 31°C; all fluctuating treatments shared a minimum temperature of 22°C at 00.00 and a maximum of 25, 28, 31, 34 or 37°C at 12.00). We measured each individual's length weekly over 60 days, critical thermal maximum (CTmax), five morphometric traits (eye anterior-posterior distance, pelvic fin length, pectoral fin length, pelvic fin ray count and pectoral fin ray count) and fluctuating asymmetry (FA, absolute difference between left and right morphometric measurements; FA is typically associated with stress). Length-at-age in both constant and fluctuating conditions decreased with temperature, and this trait's variance decreased with temperature under fluctuating conditions but increased and then decreased in constant temperatures. CTmax in both treatments increased with increasing water temperature, while its variance decreased in warmer waters. No consistent pattern in mean or variance was found across morphometric traits or FA. Our results suggest that, for fathead minnows, variance can decrease in important traits (e.g. length-at-age and CTmax) as the environment becomes more stressful, so it may be difficult to establish comprehensive rules for the effects of rarer or stressful environments on trait variation. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change'.
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