Morphological and dietary responses of chipmunks to a century of climate change

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Abstract

Predicting how individual taxa will respond to climatic change is challenging, in part because the impacts of environmental conditions can vary markedly, even among closely related species. Studies of chipmunks (Tamias spp.) in Yosemite National Park provide an important opportunity to explore the reasons for this variation in response. While the alpine chipmunk (T. alpinus) has undergone a significant elevational range contraction over the past century, the congeneric and partially sympatric lodgepole chipmunk (T. speciosus) has not experienced an elevational range shift during this period. As a first step toward identifying the factors underlying this difference in response, we examined evidence for dietary changes and changes in cranial morphology in these species over the past century. Stable isotope analyses of fur samples from modern and historical museum specimens of these species collected at the same localities indicated that signatures of dietary change were more pronounced in T. alpinus, although diet breadth did not differ consistently between the study species. Morphometric analyses of crania from these specimens revealed significant changes in cranial shape for T. alpinus, with less pronounced changes in shape for T. speciosus; evidence of selection on skull morphology was detected for T. alpinus, but not for T. speciosus. These results are consistent with growing evidence that T. alpinus is generally more responsive to environmental change than T. speciosus, but emphasize the complex and often geographically variable nature of such responses. Accordingly, future studies that make use of the taxonomically and spatially integrative approach employed here may prove particularly informative regarding relationships between environmental conditions, range changes, and patterns of phenotypic variation.

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