Phenotypic and fitness consequences of maternal nest-site choice across multiple early life stages

Timothy S. Mitchell, Daniel A. Warner, Fredric J. Janzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Identifying the relative contributions of genetic, maternal, and environmental factors to phenotypic variation is critical for evaluating the evolutionary potential of fitnessrelated traits. We employed a novel two-step cross-fostering experiment to quantify the relative contributions of clutch (i.e., maternal identity) and maternally chosen nest sites to phenotypic variation during three early life stages (incubation, hibernation, dispersal) of the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). By translocating eggs between nests in the field, we demonstrated that both clutch and nest site contribute to phenotypic variation at hatching. Because hatchling C. picta hibernate inside nests, we performed a second cross-foster to decouple the effects of the incubation nest with that of the hibernation nest. Incubation nest explained little variation in phenotypes at spring emergence, but winter nest site was important. We found no evidence that mothers select nest sites specific to reaction norms of their own offspring, suggesting that females may select nest sites with microhabitats that broadly meet similar requirements across the population. After hibernation, we released hatchlings to assess performance and phenotypic selection during dispersal. Hibernation nest site influenced physiological performance during dispersal, and we detected nonlinear selection on hatchling carapace length. Our experiment demonstrates that nest-site choice has substantial effects on phenotypic variation and fitness across multiple early life stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-345
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Chrysemys picta
  • Cross-fostering experiment
  • Dispersal
  • Fitness by life stage
  • Hibernation
  • Incubation
  • Maternal effect
  • Nest-site choice
  • Painted turtle
  • Phenotypic variation


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