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Growth and maturity of a terrestrial ectotherm near its northern distributional limit: does latitude matter?

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High-latitude environments are challenging for terrestrial ectotherms because short and cool active seasons generally limit the time available for foraging and growth, thereby negatively influencing life-history variables such as growth rate and age at maturity and ultimately, via fitness differences, their evolution. Many species show latitudinal clines in life-history traits, including growth rate and body size. We estimated growth curves of Plains Garter Snakes (Thamnophis radix (Baird and Girard, 1853)) near the northern limit of the species’ range in central Alberta and compared our findings to similar estimates for more southerly populations. Despite a short growing season, female T. radix at Miquelon Lake grew rapidly, reaching maturity in 1 or 2 years, similar to southern populations, and attained greater maximum sizes than snakes in southern populations. Overall, growth in this high-latitude population is comparable with what is seen in other conspecific populations. Possible reasons for lack of marked latitudinal effect include longer days at high latitudes, highly productive aquatic habitats for foraging, effective thermoregulation, reduced competition, and (or) countergradient variation in growth rate.

Keywords: Plains Garter Snake; Reptilia; Thamnophis radix; couleuvre des Plaines; croissance; cycle biologique; ecology; ectotherm; ectotherme; growth; haute latitude; high latitude; life history; maturity; maturité; reptiles; écologie

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 10, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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