Understanding evolutionary impacts of seasonality: An introduction to the symposium

Caroline M. Williams, Gregory J. Ragland, Gustavo Betini, Lauren B. Buckley, Zachary A. Cheviron, Kathleen Donohue, Joe Hereford, Murray M. Humphries, Simeon Lisovski, Katie E. Marshall, Paul S. Schmidt, Kimberly S. Sheldon, Oystein Varpe, Marcel E. Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Seasonality is a critically important aspect of environmental variability, and strongly shapes all aspects of life for organisms living in highly seasonal environments. Seasonality has played a key role in generating biodiversity, and has driven the evolution of extreme physiological adaptations and behaviors such as migration and hibernation. Fluctuating selection pressures on survival and fecundity between summer and winter provide a complex selective landscape, which can be met by a combination of three outcomes of adaptive evolution: genetic polymorphism, phenotypic plasticity, and bet-hedging. Here, we have identified four important research questions with the goal of advancing our understanding of evolutionary impacts of seasonality. First, we ask how characteristics of environments and species will determine which adaptive response occurs. Relevant characteristics include costs and limits of plasticity, predictability, and reliability of cues, and grain of environmental variation relative to generation time. A second important question is how phenological shifts will amplify or ameliorate selection on physiological hardiness. Shifts in phenology can preserve the thermal niche despite shifts in climate, but may fail to completely conserve the niche or may even expose life stages to conditions that cause mortality. Considering distinct environmental sensitivities of life history stages will be key to refining models that forecast susceptibility to climate change. Third, we must identify critical physiological phenotypes that underlie seasonal adaptation and work toward understanding the genetic architectures of these responses. These architectures are key for predicting evolutionary responses. Pleiotropic genes that regulate multiple responses to changing seasons may facilitate coordination among functionally related traits, or conversely may constrain the expression of optimal phenotypes. Finally, we must advance our understanding of how changes in seasonal fluctuations are impacting ecological interaction networks. We should move beyond simple dyadic interactions, such as predator prey dynamics, and understand how these interactions scale up to affect ecological interaction networks. As global climate change alters many aspects of seasonal variability, including extreme events and changes in mean conditions, organisms must respond appropriately or go extinct. The outcome of adaptation to seasonality will determine responses to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)921-933
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


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