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Reprod Fertil Dev. 2010;22(5):761-70. doi: 10.1071/RD09195.

Incidence, causes and consequences of pregnancy failure in viviparous lizards: implications for research and conservation settings.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand.


Research on the causes of pregnancy failure in vertebrates has historically been mammal-focussed. However, live-birth (viviparity) has evolved multiple times, and is present in all other vertebrate taxa except Aves and Agnatha. Viviparous lizards (O. Squamata, excluding snakes and amphisbaenians) provide a valuable experimental group when studying major evolutionary events and some are also species of high conservation value. Consequently, both researchers and herpetoculturists often require high reproductive output from captive-held lizards. We reviewed the literature to determine potential or known causes of pregnancy failure for captive lizards. Pregnancy success across species averages approximately 86%, but varies extensively and does not appear to be related to embryonic stage when brought into captivity or level of placentation. Causes of pregnancy failure also vary among species, but correct thermal environments are vital to success, and providing adequate nutrition before vitellogenesis increases the number of viable offspring. A coordinated sequence of hormonal changes involving both pro-pregnancy and pro-labour factors is important for successful pregnancies, although uncertainty remains around the maternal concentrations of corticosterone that allow successful development. Several research areas commonly studied in mammals have yet to be explored or fully addressed in pregnant lizards, including impacts of toxins, parasites, UV light and nutritional quality. As viviparity has evolved over 100 times in lizards, and many different levels of placentation exist, pregnant lizards provide valuable models for studies in ecology and evolution and offer a useful comparison for studies on other viviparous vertebrates.

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