Inheritance of nesting behaviour across natural environmental variation in a turtle with temperature-dependent sex determination

Suzanne E. McGaugh, Lisa E. Schwanz, Rachel M. Bowden, Julie E. Gonzalez, Fredric J. Janzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Nesting behaviour is critical for reproductive success in oviparous organisms with no parental care. In organisms where sex is determined by incubation temperature, nesting behaviour may be a prime target of selection in response to unbalanced sex ratios. To produce an evolutionary change in response to sex-ratio selection, components of nesting behaviour must be heritable. We estimated the field heritability of two key components of nesting behaviour in a population of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) with temperature-dependent sex determination by applying the 'animal model' to a pedigree reconstructed from genotype data. We obtained estimates of low to non-detectable heritability using repeated records across all environments. We then determined environment-specific heritability by grouping records with similar temperatures for the winter preceding the nesting season, a variable known to be highly associated with our two traits of interest, nest vegetation cover and Julian date of nesting. The heritability estimates of nest vegetation cover and Julian date of nesting were qualitatively highest and significant, or nearly so, after hot winters. Additive genetic variance for these traits was not detectable after cold winters. Our analysis suggests that the potential for evolutionary change of nesting behaviour may be dependent on the thermal conditions of the preceding winter, a season that is predicted to be especially subject to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1219-1226
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1685
StatePublished - Apr 22 2010


  • Animal model
  • Chrysemys
  • Climate change
  • G × E
  • Heritability
  • Phenology

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