Does viviparity evolve in cold climate reptiles because pregnant females maintain stable (not high) body temperatures?

Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Viviparity (live bearing) has evolved from egg laying (oviparity) in many lineages of lizards and snakes, apparently in response to occupancy of cold climates. Explanations for this pattern have focused on the idea that behaviorally thermoregulating (sun-basking) pregnant female reptiles can maintain higher incubation temperatures for their embryos than would be available in nests under the soil surface. This is certainly true at very high elevations, where only viviparous species occur. However, comparisons of nest and lizard temperatures at sites close to the upper elevational limit for oviparous reptiles (presumably, the selective environment where the transition from oviparity to viviparity actually occurs) suggest that reproductive mode has less effect on mean incubation temperatures than on the diel distribution of those temperatures. Nests of the oviparous scincid lizard Bassiana duperreyi showed smooth diel cycles of heating and cooling. In contrast, body temperatures of the viviparous scincid Eulamprus heatwolei rose abruptly in the morning, were high and stable during daylight hours, and fell abruptly at night. Laboratory incubation experiments mimicking these patterns showed that developmental rates of eggs and phenotypic traits of hatchling B. duperreyi were sensitive to this type of thermal variance as well as to mean temperature. Hence, diel distributions as well as mean incubation temperatures may have played an important role in the selective forces for viviparity. More generally, variances as well as mean values of abiotic factors may constitute significant selective forces on life-history evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1809-1818
Number of pages10
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Embryo
  • Lizard
  • Phenotype
  • Thermal


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