Behavioral thermoregulation by mothers protects offspring from global warming but at a cost

Ivan Beltran*, Constant Perry, Faustine Degottex, Martin J. Whiting

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Thermal conditions during embryonic development affect offspring phenotype in ectotherms. Therefore, rising environmental temperatures can have important consequences for an individual's fitness. Nonetheless, females have some capacity to compensate for potential negative consequences that adverse developmental environments may have on their offspring. Recent studies show that oviparous reptiles exhibit behavioral plasticity in nest site selection, which can buffer their embryos against high incubation temperatures; however, much less is known about these responses in viviparous reptiles. We subjected pregnant viviparous skinks, Saiphos equalis, to current or projected midcentury (2050) temperatures to test (i) how elevated temperatures affect female thermoregulatory and foraging behavior; (ii) whether temperatures experienced by females during pregnancy negatively affect the morphology, performance, and behavior of hatchlings; and (iii) whether behavioral thermoregulation during pregnancy is costly to females. Females from the elevated temperature treatment compensated by going deeper belowground to seek cooler temperatures and eating less, and they consequently had a lower body mass relative to snout-to-vent length (condition estimator) compared with females from the current thermal treatment. The temperatures experienced by females in the elevated temperature treatment were high enough to affect foraging and locomotor performance but not the morphology and growth rate of hatchlings. By seeking cooler temperatures, mothers can mitigate some of the effects of high temperatures on their offspring (e.g., reduced body size and growth). However, this protective behavior of females may come at an energetic cost to them. This study adds to growing evidence of lizards' vulnerability to global warming, particularly during reproduction when females are already paying a substantial cost.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)302-318
    Number of pages17
    JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
    Issue number5
    Early online date14 Jul 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


    • climate change
    • viviparity
    • thermoregulation
    • developmental plasticity
    • reptile


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