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Microclimate preferences correlate with contrasted evaporative water loss in parapatric vipers at their contact zone

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Terrestrial ectotherms predominantly use behavioural means to thermoregulate and thereby optimize performances. However, thermoregulation can impart physiological challenges to other critical processes such as water balance by increasing evaporative water loss (EWL). Like thermoregulation, water balance is influenced by both external factors (e.g., microhabitat and environmental constraints) and endogenous traits (e.g., evaporative water loss rates, dehydration tolerance). Although thermoregulation and water balance are tightly linked, the role of water balance is often overlooked when evaluating species climatic adaptation and response to global warming. We studied two congeneric viperid species (the Aspic Viper, Vipera aspis (L., 1758), and the Common Viper, Vipera berus (L., 1758)) with contrasted climatic affinities (south European versus boreal, respectively). These parapatric species are syntopic in narrow contact zones where microhabitat partitioning has been reported. We compared total EWL and cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL) of the two species and monitored the thermal and hydric conditions of the microhabitats used in syntopic populations. We found that the boreal V. berus has greater EWL, both total and cutaneous. Accordingly, this species selected more humid microhabitats throughout the year. Humidity appears to be an important determinant of habitat selection, and therefore, V. berus is likely vulnerable to changing precipitation at the southern limit of its distribution.

Keywords: Vipera aspis; Vipera berus; evaporative water loss; microhabitat selection; parapatrie; parapatry; pertes hydriques par évaporation; sélection de microhabitat; thermoregulation; thermorégulation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UPR 1934 CNRS, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France. 2: School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4501, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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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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