Phenotypic plasticity of body size at different temperatures in a planktonic rotifer: mechanisms and adaptive significance


  • C. P. Stelzer

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    1. Max Planck Institute of Limnology, Department of Physiological Ecology, Postfach 165, 24306 Plön, Germany
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      Present address: Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332–0230, USA.

† Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


  • 1Larger body size at low temperatures is a commonly observed phenomenon in ectothermic organisms. The mechanisms that lead to this pattern and its possible adaptive significance were studied in laboratory experiments using the parthenogenetically reproducing rotifer Synchaeta pectinata.
  • 2At low temperatures of 4 °C mean body volume was 46% larger than in individuals cultured at 12 °C. Egg volume was 35% larger in low vs high temperatures.
  • 3Larger body size at low temperatures was caused by two mechanisms. First, when exposed to low temperatures, mothers laid larger eggs and the hatchlings of these eggs developed into larger adults (irrespective of temperature). Second, individuals cultured at low temperatures grew to a larger body size during their juvenile phase. The former mechanism had a greater influence on adult size than the latter.
  • 4The production of larger eggs at low temperatures seemed to be due to a higher reproductive investment into individual offspring as it occurred independently of differences in maternal size.
  • 5Life table experiments showed that offspring from small eggs (produced at high temperatures) had a significantly higher population growth rate than offspring from large eggs, when cultured at high temperatures. This was mainly due to an increase in fertility during the first days of adult life.