Mateo, J.M. Development, maternal effects, and behavioral plasticity. Integrative and Comparative Biology

Behavioral, hormonal , and genetic processes interact reciprocally, and differentially affect behavior depending on ecological and social contexts. When individual differences are favored either between or within environments, developmental plasticity would be expected. Parental effects provide a rich source for phenotypic plasticity, including anatomical, physiological, and behavioral traits, because parents respond to dynamic cues in their environment and can, in turn, influence offspring accordingly. Because these inter-generational changes are plastic, parents can respond rapidly to changing environments and produce offspring whose phenotypes are well suited for current conditions, more quickly than occurs with changes based on evolution through natural selection. I will review studies on developmental plasticity and resulting phenotypes in Belding's ground squirrels (Urocitellus beldingi), an ideal species, given the competing demands to avoid predation while gaining sufficient weight to survive an upcoming hibernation, and the need for young to learn their survival behaviors. I will show how local environments and perceived risk of predation risk influence not only foraging, vigilance, and anti-predator behaviors, but also adrenal functioning, which may be especially important for obligate hibernators that face competing demands on glucose the storage and mobilization of glucose. Mammalian behavioral development is sensitive to the social and physical environments provided by mothers during gestation and lactation. Therefore, maternal effects on offspring 's phenotypes, both positive and negative, can be particularly strong.