Maternal manipulation of offspring phenotypes via nest-site selection in an oviparous lizard

Richard Shine*, Peter S. Harlow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

283 Citations (Scopus)
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Mothers may be able to manipulate the phenotypes of their progeny not only via direct pathways (e.g., allocation of nutrients and energy), but also indirectly, by inducing particular developmental pathways through selection of nest sites and thus, incubation conditions. In the field, female skinks (Bassiana duperreyi) in montane southeastern Australia select nest sites with specific thermal characteristics - especially, a high mean temperature and a high diel range in temperature. Monitoring of 14 natural nests throughout most of the incubation period revealed considerable differences among nests in both means and variances of thermal regimes. Laboratory experiments on this species show that both the mean and the variance of incubation temperatures profoundly influence developmental rates (and hence, incubation periods) as well as the body shape, activity levels thermoregulatory behavior, and running speeds of the hatchlings. Hence, a female's selection of a particular nest site can substantially modify both the time of emergence of the hatchlings, and the morphology and behavior of her offspring. Even within a single nest minor differences among eggs in their depth below the ground surface will directly affect thermal variance, and so may strongly influence rates of embryogenesis and the phenotype of the hatching. The effects of thermal variance (independent of the mean) on embryonic development rates and hatchling phenotypes suggest that data from constant-temperature incubation in the laboratory should be interpreted with caution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1808-1817
Number of pages10
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1996
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 1996 by the Ecological Society of America. Shine, R. and Harlow, P.S. (1996), Maternal Manipulation of Offspring Phenotypes via Nest‐Site Selection in an Oviparous Lizard. Ecology, 77: 1808-1817. doi:10.2307/2265785


  • Development
  • Hatchling performance
  • Incubation
  • Lizard
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Temperature effects


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