Post-hatching environment contributes greatly to phenotypic variation between two populations of the Australian garden skink, Lampropholis guichenoti

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Abstract

While recent experimental work on a variety of reptile species has demonstrated that incubation temperature influences hatchling phenotypes, the biological significance of such phenotypic variation remains unclear. Incubation temperature may exert significant long-term phenotypic effects. Alternatively, such influences may be temporary, or negligible relative to effects induced by genetic factors, or by the environmental conditions experienced after hatching. Even if incubation temperature exerts long-term effects on phenotype, this might occur indirectly (by influencing hatching dates) rather than by direct modifications of developmental processes. We quantified the influences of the source population, incubation temperature and rearing environment, on the phenotype of the Australian garden skink (Lampropholis guichenoti) from populations that differ in nest temperature and phenotype. Intcrpopulation differences in the phenotypes of young lizards were found to be a product of all three factors. However, the long-term effects of both population and incubation temperature operated indirectly (through variation in the date of hatching) rather than directly (through genetic or developmental factors). That is, once all temporal effects were removed, the only discernible influence on juvenile phenotypes was their rearing environment. Thus, some of the most important influences on lizard phenotypes may operate via modifications of hatching date.

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