Maternal body-volume as a constraint on reproductive output in lizards: evidence from the evolution of viviparity

Carl P. Qualls*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


A few species of squamate reptiles contain both oviparous (egg-laying) and viviparous (live-bearing) populations, and thus offer exceptional opportunities to test adaptationist hypotheses on the determinants of reproductive output. We focus on the hypothesis that maternal body-volume constrains reproductive output in squamate reptiles. If females are "full" of eggs, what happens when viviparity evolves within a lineage? Eggs increase in volume and mass during development, primarily due to the uptake of water, so how can they be accommodated within the mother's abdomen? We predict that the resultant increase in relative clutch mass (RCM) will be lessened by (1) a decrease in reproductive output (by reducing the number or size of offspring), and/or (2) an increase in maternal body-volume (via modifications of size or shape of adult females). Our comparisons of conspecific oviparous and viviparous lizards (Lerista bougainvillii) confirm that live-bearers carry heavier clutches (in both absolute and relative terms) and show the predicted shifts in body size and shape of reproductive females. However, offspring size and number were unaffected by the evolution of viviparity, and the shifts in maternal morphology were too small to fully offset the increase in clutch mass. Thus, RCMs increased by 50%, indicating that viviparous females produced clutches which more completely filled the space available in the abdominal cavity. We conclude that maternal body-volume does play a role in determining reproductive output, but that the observed clutch masses may be optimized, rather than maximized, with respect to the abdominal space available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-78
Number of pages6
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Body-volume
  • Constraints
  • Life history
  • Lizards
  • Reproductive output


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