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Polymorphism of winter phenotype in Siberian hamster: consecutive litters do not differ in photoresponsiveness but prolonged acclimation to long photoperiod inhibits winter molt
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-03-18, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00391-3
Anna S. Przybylska-Piech, Michał S. Wojciechowski, Małgorzata Jefimow

The theory of delayed life history effects assumes that phenotype of adult individual results from environmental conditions experienced at birth and as juvenile. In seasonal environments, being born late in the reproductive season affects timing of puberty, body condition, longevity, and fitness. We hypothesized that late-born individuals are more prone to respond to short photoperiod (SP) than early born ones. We used Siberian hamsters Phodopus sungorus, a model species characterized by high polymorphism of winter phenotype. We experimentally distinguished the effect of litter order (first or third) from the effect of exposure to long photoperiod (LP) before winter (3 months or 5 months) by manipulating the duration of LP acclimation in both litters. We predicted that, irrespective of the litter order, individuals exposed to long photoperiod for a short time have less time to gather energy resources and consequently are more prone to developing energy-conserving phenotypes. To assess effect of litter order, duration of acclimation to long days, and phenotype on basal cost of living we measured basal metabolic rate (BMR) of hamsters. Individuals born in third litters had faster growth rates and were bigger than individuals from first litters, but these differences vanished before transfer to SP. Litter order or duration of LP acclimation had no effects on torpor use or seasonal body mass changes, but prolonged acclimation to LP inhibited winter molting both in first and third litters. Moreover, individuals that did not molt had significantly higher BMR in SP than those which molted to white fur. Although one phenotype usually predominated within a litter, littermates were often heterogeneous. We also found that over 10% of individuals presented late response to short photoperiod. Our data indicate that duration of postnatal exposure to LP may define propensity to photoresponsiveness, regardless of the litter in which animal was born. Existence of littermates presenting different phenotypes suggests a prudent reproductive strategy of investing into offspring of varied phenotypes, that might be favored depending on environmental conditions. This strategy could have evolved in response to living in stochastic environment.