Patterns of developmental plasticity in response to incubation temperature in reptiles

Geoffrey M. While, Daniel W. A. Noble*, Tobias Uller, Daniel A. Warner, Julia L. Riley, Wei Guo Du, Lisa E. Schwanz

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    60 Citations (Scopus)


    Early life environments shape phenotypic development in important ways that can lead to long-lasting effects on phenotype and fitness. In reptiles, one aspect of the early environment that impacts development is temperature (termed ‘thermal developmental plasticity’). Indeed, the thermal environment during incubation is known to influence morphological, physiological, and behavioral traits, some of which have important consequences for many ecological and evolutionary processes. Despite this, few studies have attempted to synthesize and collate data from this expansive and important body of research. Here, we systematically review research into thermal developmental plasticity across reptiles, structured around the key papers and findings that have shaped the field over the past 50 years. From these papers, we introduce a large database (the ‘Reptile Development Database’) consisting of 9,773 trait means across 300 studies examining thermal developmental plasticity. This dataset encompasses data on a range of phenotypes, including morphological, physiological, behavioral, and performance traits along with growth rate, incubation duration, sex ratio, and survival (e.g., hatching success) across all major reptile clades. Finally, from our literature synthesis and data exploration, we identify key research themes associated with thermal developmental plasticity, important gaps in empirical research, and demonstrate how future progress can be made through targeted empirical, meta-analytic, and comparative work.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)162-176
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
    Issue number4-5
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


    • crocodiles
    • environment
    • lizards
    • phenotypic plasticity
    • Reptile Development Database
    • snakes
    • thermal plasticity
    • tortoises
    • tuatara
    • turtles


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