Indexed on: 01 Oct '95Published on: 01 Oct '95Published in: Evolution
Organismal performance abilities occupy a central position in phenotypic evolution; they are determined by suites of interacting lower-level traits (e.g., morphology and physiology) and they are a primary focus of natural selection. The mechanisms by which higher levels of organismal performance are achieved during evolution are therefore fundamentally important for understanding correlated evolution in general and coadaptation in particular. Here we address correlated evolution of morphological, physiological, and behavioral characteristics that influence interspecific variation in sprint speed in a clade of lacertid lizards. Phylogenetic analyses using independent contrasts indicate that the evolution of high maximum sprinting abilities (measured on a photocell-timed racetrack) has occurred via the evolution of (1) longer hind limbs relative to body size, and (2) a higher physiologically optimum temperature for sprinting. For ectotherms, which experience variable body temperatures while active, sprinting abilities in nature depend on both maximum capacities and relative performance levels (i.e., percent of maximum) that can be attained. With respect to temperature effects, relative performance levels are determined by the interaction between thermal physiology and thermoregulatory behavior. Among the 13 species or subspecies of lizards in the present study, differences in the optimal temperature for sprinting (body temperature at which lizards run fastest) closely matched interspecific variation in median preferred body temperature (measured in a laboratory photothermal gradient), indicating correlated evolution of thermal physiology and thermal preferences. Variability of the preferred body temperatures maintained by each species is, across species, negatively correlated with the thermal-performance breadth (range of body temperatures over which lizards can run relatively fast). This pattern leads to interspecific differences in the levels of relative sprint speed that lizards are predicted to attain while active at their preferred temperatures. The highest levels of predicted relative performance are achieved by species that combine a narrow, precise distribution of preferred temperatures with the ability to sprint at near-maximum speeds over a wide range of body temperatures. The observed among-species differences in predicted relative speed were positively correlated with the interspecific variation in maximum sprinting capacities. Thus, species that attain the highest maximum speeds are (1) also able to run at near-maximum levels over a wide range of temperatures and (2) also maintain body temperatures within a narrow zone near the optimal temperature for sprinting. The observed pattern of correlated evolution therefore has involved traits at distinct levels of biological organization, that is, morphology, physiology, and behavior; and trade-offs are not evident. We hypothesize that this particular trait combination has evolved in response to coadaptational selection pressures. We also discuss our results in the context of possible evolutionary responses to global climatic change.