Geographic variation in lizard phenotypes: importance of the incubation environment

Fiona J. Qualls*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


Geographic variation in phenotypes can result from proximate environmental effects as well as from underlying genetic factors. Reciprocal transplant experiments, in which organisms are moved from one area to another, offer a powerful technique to partition the effects of these two factors. However, many studies that have utilized this technique have focused on the post-hatching organism only and ignored potential effects of environmental influences acting during embryonic development. We examined the phenotypic responses of hatchling scincid lizards (Lampropholis guichenoti) incubated in the laboratory under thermal regimes characteristic of natural nests in two study areas in southeastern Australia. Although the sites were less than 120 km apart, lizards from these two areas differed in thermal regimes of natural nests, and in hatchling phenotypes (morphology, locomotor performance). We incubated eggs from each area under the thermal regimes typical of both sites. Some of the traits we measured (e.g. hatchling mass and snout-vent length) showed little or no phenotypic plasticity in response to differences in incubation conditions, whereas other traits (e.g. incubation period, tail length, inter-limb length, body shape, locomotor performance) were strongly influenced by the thermal regime experienced by the embryo. Thus, a significant proportion of the geographic variation in morphology and locomotor performance of hatchling lizards may be directly induced by differences in nest temperatures rather than by genetic divergence. We suggest that future studies using the reciprocal transplant design should consider environmental influences on all stages of the life-history, including embryonic development as well as post-hatching life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-491
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Egg
  • Lampropholis guichenoti
  • Nest
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Reciprocal incubation
  • Reciprocal transplant


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