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Thermal-Metabolic Phenotypes of the Lizard Podarcis muralis Differ Across Elevation, but Converge in High-Elevation Hypoxia

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Journal of Experimental Biology

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In response to a warming climate, many montane species are shifting upslope to track the emergence of preferred temperatures. Characterizing patterns of variation in metabolic, physiological and thermal traits along an elevational gradient, and the plastic potential of these traits, is necessary to understand current and future responses to abiotic constraints at high elevations, including limited oxygen availability. We performed a transplant experiment with the upslope-colonizing common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) in which we measured nine aspects of thermal physiology and aerobic capacity in lizards from replicate low- (400 m above sea level, ASL) and high-elevation (1700 m ASL) populations. We first measured traits at their elevation of origin and then transplanted half of each group to extreme high elevation (2900 m ASL; above the current elevational range limit of this species), where oxygen availability is reduced by ∼25% relative to sea level. After 3 weeks of acclimation, we again measured these traits in both the transplanted and control groups. The multivariate thermal-metabolic phenotypes of lizards originating from different elevations differed clearly when measured at the elevation of origin. For example, high-elevation lizards are more heat tolerant than their low-elevation counterparts (counter-gradient variation). Yet, these phenotypes converged after exposure to reduced oxygen availability at extreme high elevation, suggesting limited plastic responses under this novel constraint. Our results suggest that high-elevation populations are well suited to their oxygen environments, but that plasticity in the thermal-metabolic phenotype does not pre-adapt these populations to colonize more hypoxic environments at higher elevations.

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