Female phenotype, life history, and reproductive success in free-ranging snakes (Tropidonophis mairii)

G. P. Brown, R. Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Life-history theory posits causal links from an organism's phenotype (e.g., its body size and condition) to its reproductive output (e.g., offspring size and number) and thence to its microevolutionary fitness. However, few empirical data are available to quantify such links, especially for tropical organisms. Oviposition by field-caught keelback snakes (Tropidonophis mairii, Colubridae) in tropical Australia yielded data on clutches from 318 adult females (3151 eggs) over three years, and mark-recapture studies (1804 nights surveyed) quantified survival rates of neonates from those laboratory-incubated clutches. Path analysis revealed strong links between maternal phenotype, reproductive output, and fitness, and these links were consistent among years and across different parts of the nesting period. Although all eggs were incubated at standard water potentials, clutches varied considerably in the amount of water uptake by eggs during incubation. Hatchling body length was influenced more by the egg's water uptake than by its initial mass. Larger offspring were more likely to survive their first year of life. Overall, the rate of water uptake by a female's eggs was more important for her reproductive success (number of surviving progeny) than were variables such as mean egg mass. Hence, this population experiences intense selection not only on "conventional" life-history traits such as egg size and number, but also on maternal nest-site choice and on the physiological mechanisms that control water exchange between the egg and the nest substrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2763-2770
Number of pages8
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Colubrid snake
  • Fitness
  • Incubation
  • Keelback snake
  • Life history
  • Offspring size
  • Phenotype
  • Reproductive success
  • Reptile
  • Selection
  • Tropidonophis mairii


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