In natural nests, the eggs of squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) sometimes experience unpredictable shifts in oxygen availability as a function of nest flooding, or the details of egg location within a nest. We experimentally investigated whether embryos can facultatively adjust cardiac function to cope with such challenges by imposing regional hypoxia on developing eggs of the scincid lizard Bassiana duperreyi. To do so, we sealed half of the eggshell surface with tissue adhesive. The embryos rapidly responded by increasing heart rates, which they maintained for long periods. The elevated heart rates enabled the embryos not only to survive, but to maintain "normal" metabolic rates, and to hatch at the usual time with unmodified phenotypic traits (e.g., hatchling size, relative heart mass, locomotor speed, post-hatchling survival and growth rates). Turtles and birds with rigid (highly calcified) eggshells show more dramatic ill-effects from hypoxic incubation, suggesting that the thin (and thus, highly gas-permeable) parchment-shelled eggs of most squamates allow more effective embryonic adjustment of oxygen exchange rates in response to externally-imposed hypoxia.
|Number of pages||4|
|Journal||Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology|
|Publication status||Published - Aug 2010|
- embryonic metabolism
- heart rate