Seeing spots: Quantifying mother-offspring similarity and assessing fitness consequences of coat pattern traits in a wild population of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)

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Abstract

Polymorphic phenotypes of mammalian coat coloration have been important to the study of genetics and evolution, but less is known about the inheritance and fitness consequences of individual variation in complex coat pattern traits such as spots and stripes. Giraffe coat markings are highly complex and variable and it has been hypothesized that variation in coat patterns most likely affects fitness by camouflaging neonates against visually hunting predators. We quantified complex coat pattern traits of wild Masai giraffes using image analysis software, determined the similarity of spot pattern traits between mother and offspring, and assessed whether variation in spot pattern traits was related to fitness as measured by juvenile survival. The methods we described could comprise a framework for objective quantification of complex mammal coat pattern traits based on photographic coat pattern data. We demonstrated that some characteristics of giraffe coat spot shape were likely to be heritable, as measured by mother-offspring regression. We found significant variation in juvenile survival among phenotypic groups of neonates defined by multivariate clustering based on spot trait measurement variables. We also found significant variation in neonatal survival associated with spot size and shape covariates. Larger spots (smaller number of spots) and irregularly shaped or rounder spots (smaller aspect ratio) were correlated with increased survival. These findings will inform investigations into developmental and genetic architecture of complex mammal coat patterns and their adaptive value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5690
JournalPeerJ
Volume2018
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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