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Dispersal potential impacts size clines of grasshoppers across an elevation gradient



Body size is a life history trait that determines the reproductive success of a variety of organisms. Changes in body size may have a genetic component when persistent conditions such as season length and climate select for individuals of an optimal body size and an environmental component when it is influenced on an ecological scale by factors such as weather, food availability, or maternal effects. Along elevational gradients that experience seasonality, insects commonly become smaller with increases in elevation. In this study we test the hypothesis that dispersal potential, an indicator of gene flow, impacts the type of size clines exhibited by insects along elevational gradients and that these differences in local adaptation should lead to predictable changes in their reproductive potential and output. Using two short winged grasshopper species, Aeropedellus clavatus and Melanoplus boulderensis, and two long winged species, Camnula pellucida and Melanoplus sanguinipes, we showed that species with low dispersal potential are associated with significant declines in body size with increases in elevation while species with high dispersal potential displayed no size clines. Consistent with short winged species being more locally adapted, we show that reproductive potential, as measured by the proportion of ovarioles that become functional, do not differ among populations of short winged species, but decline with elevation in the long winged species. While our study failed to show that dispersal potential impacts reproductive output in a consistent and predictable manner (as measured by clutch and egg sizes), we address the possibility that clutch size may not reflect changes in total reproductive output and that changes in egg size may be a plastic trait. We concluded that studies exploring the evolution of body size, the reproductive capacity and species level responses to environmental change should note the importance of dispersal potential in influencing these patterns.