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Physiological stress and color polymorphism in the intertidal snail Nucella lapillus
Etter, R.J. (1988). Physiological stress and color polymorphism in the intertidal snail Nucella lapillus. Evolution 42(4): 660-680
In: Evolution. Society for the Study of Evolution: Lancaster, PA.. ISSN 0014-3820, more
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  • Etter, R.J.

    The intertidal snail Nucella lapillus exhibits considerable variation in shell color both within and between populations differentially exposed to wave action. Populations from high-wave-energy shores tended to be highly polymorphic and were dominated by pigmented morphs (especially brown), while those at more sheltered locations exhibited less polymorphism and were predominantly white. Field and laboratory experiments were conducted to determine the role of physiological stress and selective predation in maintaining the observed distribution of color morphs. The results demonstrated that 1) physiological stress from high temperature and desiccation during periods of tidal emersion was greater on protected shores, 2) under similar natural conditions, brown morphs heated up faster, attained higher temperatures, desiccated more rapidly, and suffered greater mortality than did white morphs, and 3) when pairs of brown and white morphs were tethered intertidally there was virtually no mortality of either morph on the exposed shore or in shaded microhabitats on the protected shore, but brown morphs suffered much greater mortality in sunny microhabitats on the protected shore. These findings demonstrate that the interpopulation variation in shell color of N. lapillus is in part a response to a selective gradient in physiological stress. Selection for crypsis by visually hunting predators did not appear to play a prominent role; however, only adults were considered, and the predation experiments were conducted in the fall before shorebirds that prey on whelks had arrived from their summer feeding grounds. Further experimentation to quantify the effects of visual predators such as birds and fish, particularly on juvenile snails, is necessary to assess adequately the importance of predation.

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