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Variation in Cepaea populations over 42 years: climate fluctuations destroy a topographical relationship of morph-frequencies



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    1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 4TN, UK
    2. Department of Zoology, the Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
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    1. Museum of Natural History, Wrocław University, Sienkiewicza 21. 50-335 Wrocław, Poland
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Cepaea hortensis (Gastropoda: Pulmonata) populations in Hertfordshire, England, originally sampled in 1964–66, and sampled again in 1990, were sampled in 2007. Although the general pattern of shell colour and banding polymorphism remained stable, a significant trend for a reduction in the frequency of yellow shells in sites from valley bottoms, as observed in 1990, continued through to 2007. In both 1964–66 and 1990, populations in valley bottoms had higher frequencies of yellow shells than those on the sides, but this topographical relationship had effectively disappeared by 2007. The relationship had been explained in terms of low temperature extremes in valley bottoms in cold, anticyclonic conditions. Its decay is associated with much warmer winter conditions prevailing in the 3 years previous to both resurveys, compared with those before the original survey. The frequency of unbanded shells also increased over the period, but this change showed no topographical variation, and thus it is not possible to assign it to a particular cause. The low levels of variation between samples from the same habitat and the absence of present topographical relationships conceal the occurrence of powerful climatic selection, which is revealed only by repeated surveys. The conditions in which such changes might be detected are discussed. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 95, 53–61.