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Ecology. 2009 Oct;90(10):2933-9.

Spatial dynamics of nesting behavior: lizards shift microhabitats to construct nests with beneficial thermal properties.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana 47809, USA.


Because temperature affects the growth, development, and survival of embryos, oviparous mothers should discriminate carefully among available nesting sites. We combined a radiotelemetric study of animal movements with a spatial mapping of environmental temperatures to test predictions about the nesting behavior of the eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus). Females made large excursions from their typical home ranges to construct nests in exposed substrates. These excursions appeared to be related solely to nesting because all females returned to forested habitat immediately afterward. On average, <1% (range = 0-8%, n = 19) of the area used by a female during nesting was contained within the area used before and after nesting. The selection of nesting sites matched predictions based on laboratory studies of embryonic performance; specifically, females nested in extremely open habitat at a mean of 6 cm depth. Spatial mapping of soil temperatures revealed that temperatures of nesting areas exceeded those of areas typically used by females, indicating that females preferred to construct warm nests that speed embryonic growth and development. However, this behavior could reduce the survivorship of females because of the need to rapidly navigate unfamiliar and exposed terrain.

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