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Geographical differences in maternal basking behaviour and offspring growth rate in a climatically widespread viviparous reptile

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 00:15 authored by Chloe BibariChloe Bibari, Susan JonesSusan Jones, Erik WapstraErik Wapstra
In reptiles, the thermal environment during embryonic development affects offspring phenotypic traits and potentially offspring fitness. In viviparous species, mothers can potentially manipulate the embryonic thermal environment through their basking behaviour and, thus, may be able to manipulate offspring phenotype and increase offspring fitness. One way in which mothers can maximise offspring phenotype (and thus potentially affect offspring fitness) is by fine-tuning their basking behaviour to the environment in order to buffer the embryo from deleterious developmental temperatures. In widespread species, it is unclear whether populations that have evolved under different climatic conditions will exhibit different maternal behaviours and/or thermal effects on offspring phenotype. To test this, we provided extended or reduced basking opportunity to gravid spotted skinks (Niveoscincus ocellatus) and their offspring from two populations at the climatic extremes of the species’ distribution. Gravid females fine-tuned their basking behaviour to the basking opportunity, which allowed them to buffer their embryos from potentially negative thermal effects. This fine-tuning of female basking behaviour appears to have led to the expression of geographical differences in basking behaviour, with females from the cold alpine regions being more opportunistic in their basking behaviour than females from the warmer regions. However, those differences in maternal behaviour did not preclude the evolution of geographic differences in thermal effects: offspring growth varied between populations, potentially suggesting local adaptation to basking conditions. Our results demonstrate that maternal effects and phenotypic plasticity can play a significant role in allowing species to cope in changing environmental conditions, which is particularly relevant in the context of climate change.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Journal of Experimental Biology










School of Natural Sciences


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