Incubation regimes of cold-climate reptiles: the thermal consequences of nest-site choice, viviparity and maternal basking




Cold-climate reptiles show three kinds of adaptation to provide warmer incubation regimes for their developing embryos: maternal selection of hot nest sites; prolonged uterine retention of eggs; and increased maternal basking during pregnancy. These traits may evolve sequentially as an oviparous lineage invades colder climates. To compare the thermal consequences of these adaptations, I measured microhabitat temperatures of potential nest sites and actual nests of oviparous scincid lizards (Bassiana duperreyi), and body temperatures of pregnant and non-pregnant viviparous scincid lizards (Eulamprus heatwolei). These comparisons were made at a site where both species occur, but close to the upper elevational limit for oviparous reptiles in south-eastern Australia. Viviparity and maternal basking effort had less effect on mean incubation temperature than did maternal nest-site selection. Eggs retained in utero experienced bimodal rather than unimodal diel thermal distributions, but similar mean incubation temperatures. Often the published literature emphasizes the ability of heliothermic (basking) reptiles to maintain high body temperatures despite unfavourable ambient weather conditions; this putative ability is central to many hypotheses on selective forces for the evolution of viviparity. In cold climates, however, opportunities for maternal thermoregulation to elevate mean body temperatures (and thus, incubation temperatures) above ambient levels may be severely limited. Hence, at least over the broad elevational range in which oviparous and viviparous species live in sympatry, maternal selection of ‘hot’ nests may be as effective as is viviparity in providing favourable incubation regimes. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 83, 145–155.