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Oecologia. 2009 Aug;161(1):209-20. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1366-1. Epub 2009 May 19.

Maternal and environmental effects on offspring phenotypes in an oviparous lizard: do field data corroborate laboratory data?

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


A vast literature suggests that maternal factors and egg incubation conditions have substantial effects on offspring phenotypes in oviparous species. However, many studies that evaluate these effects have relied on experimental conditions that are rarely, if ever, encountered under natural conditions. To address this issue, we evaluated relationships among maternal factors, natural nest conditions, egg development in the field, and the resultant offspring phenotypes in a lizard with temperature-dependent sex determination, the jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus, Agamidae). Many, but not all, of the relationships shown in our field-based study corroborate results from laboratory-based experiments. Offspring body size was affected primarily by egg size at oviposition, as well as by water uptake by eggs, rather than by environmental variables measured within the nest. Date of oviposition was related to offspring growth rate and body size prior to the onset of winter; this relationship is likely mediated through an influence on the timing of hatching. Nest temperature generated substantial variation in egg survival; nests that experienced higher temperatures and higher thermal fluctuations suffered relatively high egg mortality. Contrary to results from laboratory incubation, however, nest temperature did not predict offspring sex ratios. Hence, although many results from this field study corroborate those from the laboratory, caution is needed when extrapolating laboratory-incubation results to field conditions.

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