Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 977–989 | Cite as

Population sex ratios under differing local climates in a reptile with environmental sex determination

  • Jeanine M. Refsnider
  • Carrie Milne-Zelman
  • Daniel A. Warner
  • Fredric J. Janzen
Original Paper


Populations that experience different local climates, such as those along a latitudinal gradient, must match life history traits to local environmental conditions. In species with temperature-dependent sex determination, such as many reptiles, population sex ratio is strongly influenced by local climate, yet local climate differs substantially among populations in geographically-widespread species. We studied the painted turtle at three sites across the species’ geographic range to gain a mechanistic understanding of how sex ratios are produced under different local climates. We combined data on maternal nest-site choice, nest incubation temperature, and the resultant offspring sex ratio of populations across a climatic gradient, to demonstrate how geographic variation in behavior and physiology translates into sex ratios among populations of a widely-distributed species. We found that populations across the species’ geographic range match incubation conditions with local climatic conditions through population-specific adjustment of maternal nest-site choice. Incubation temperatures during the thermosensitive period were cooler and clutches were more male-biased in the south, with populations farther north having warmer incubation temperatures and more female-biased sex ratios, yet adult sex ratios were not strongly biased in any population. Most components of maternal nest-site choice varied latitudinally among populations, suggesting that the species may have a considerable repertoire for responding to climate change through adjustment of nest-site choice.


Chrysemys picta Geographic variation Incubation Nest-site choice Painted turtle Temperature-dependent sex determination 



This study was funded by the William Clark Graduate Student Award in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (to J.M.R.); NSF Graduate Student Fellowship, Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologists Gaige Award, and Leopold Brown Trust Fellowship from Iowa State University (to C.M.-Z.); and NSF DEB-9629529 and DEB-064932 (to F.J.J.). We thank A. Inslee and the staff at Bosque del Apache NWR for hospitality at the New Mexico site; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and members of the 2006–2011 Turtle Camp Research Crews for dedicated data collection at the Illinois site; and W. Brininger, N. Powers, and H. Streby for access to and accommodation at the Minnesota site. This research was conducted in accordance with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocols 1-8-3785-1-J, 12-03-5570-J, and 6-08-6583-J (Iowa State University); Scientific Collecting Permits 3040 and 3430 (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish); Scientific Collecting Permits NH98.0099 and NH10.0073 (Illinois Department of Natural Resources); Scientific Research Permit 17839 (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources); and Special Use Permits 98006, 32576-OA022, and 32560-12-025 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The Janzen Lab at Iowa State University and three anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10682_2014_9710_MOESM1_ESM.docx (134 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 134 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeanine M. Refsnider
    • 1
    • 2
  • Carrie Milne-Zelman
    • 3
  • Daniel A. Warner
    • 4
  • Fredric J. Janzen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal BiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyAurora UniversityAuroraUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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