Elevated maternal glucocorticoid levels during gestation can lead to phenotypic changes in offspring via maternal effects. Although such effects have traditionally been considered maladaptive, maternally derived glucocorticoids may adaptively prepare offspring for their future environment depending upon the correlation between maternal and offspring environments. Nevertheless, relatively few studies test the effects of prenatal glucocorticoid exposure across multiple environments. We tested the potential for ecologically relevant increases in maternal glucocorticoids in the eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) to induce adaptive phenotypic changes in offspring exposed to high or low densities of an invasive fire ant predator. Maternal treatment had limited effects on offspring morphology and behavior at hatching, but by 10 days of age, we found maternal treatment interacted with offspring environment to alter anti-predator behaviors. We did not detect differences in early-life survival based on maternal treatment or offspring environment. Opposing selection on anti-predator behaviors from historic and novel invasive predators may confound the potential of maternal glucocorticoids to adaptively influence offspring behavior. Our test of the phenotypic outcomes of transgenerational glucocorticoid effects across risk environments provides important insight into the context-specific nature of this phenomenon and the importance of understanding both current and historic evolutionary pressures.
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme
invasive predator, maternal effects, predation risk, Sceloporus undulatus, transgenerational phenotypic plasticity
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Kirsty J. MacLeod, Tracy Langkilde, Cameron P. Venable, David C. Ensminger, and Michael J. Sheriff. "The influence of maternal glucocorticoids on offspring phenotype in high-and low-risk environments" Behavioral Ecology (2021): 1330-1338. https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arab099