Phenotypic plasticity—one individual’s capacity for phenotypic variation under different environments—is critical for organisms facing fluctuating conditions within their lifetime. North American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) experience drastic among-year fluctuations in conspecific density. This shapes juvenile competition over vacant territories and overwinter survival. To help young cope with competition at high densities, mothers can increase offspring growth rates via a glucocorticoid-mediated maternal effect. However, this effect is only adaptive under high densities, and faster growth often comes at a cost to longevity. While red squirrels can adjust hormones in response to fluctuating density, the degree to which mothers differ in glucocorticoid plasticity across changing densities remains unknown. Findings from our reaction norm approach revealed significant individual variation not only in a female red squirrel’s mean endocrine phenotype, but also in endocrine plasticity in response to changes in local density. Future work on proximate and ultimate drivers of variation in endocrine plasticity and maternal effects is needed, particularly in free-living animals experiencing fluctuating environments.
Squirrel Stress Plasticity Dryad Code
Squirrel Stress Plasticity Dryad
National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-0515849, IOS-1110436, IOS-1749627