PHENOTYPIC PLASTICITY: IMPLICATIONS FOR
CAPTIVE-BREEDING AND CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
NEIL B. FORD AND RICHARD A. SEIGEL
PHENOTYPIC PLASTICITY IS DEFINED AS VARIATION in life-history characteristics
resulting from proximal environmental factors, such as prey availability (Bull 1987; Stearns 1976).
Although considered to be extremely important from an evolutionary perspective (Ballinger 1983;
Bradshaw 1965; Bull 1987; Stearns 1989), little attention has been given to the implications of
phenotypic plasticity for captive-breeding programs of endangered or threatened species. The
ultimate goal of captive-breeding and release programs is the establishment of selfsustaining natural
populations (Griffith et al. 1989). Clearly, the success of any such program is dependent on the
number and quality of offspring released in the wild. Consequently, any mechanism that increases
the number and quality of offspring will enhance the likelihood of success. In this chapter we provide
an overview of phenotypic plasticity, using snakes as model organisms, and argue that a detailed
understanding of this phenomenon may be important for the success of captive-breeding programs
of amphibians and reptiles.
SREL Reprint #1911
Ford, N.B. and R.A. Seigel. 1994. Phenotypic plasticity: implications for captive-breeding and
conservation programs. In Captive Management and Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles, A
Volume Honoring Roger Conant, edited by J.B. Murphy, K. Adler, and J.T. Collins. p. 175-182.
Vol. Contributions to Herpetology, Vol. II. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.
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