The effects of incubation temperature on the development of the cortical forebrain in a lizard

Joshua J. Amiel, Shisan Bao, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The embryos of egg-laying species are exposed to variable thermal regimes, which can influence not only the resultant hatchling’s morphology (e.g., size, sex) and performance (e.g., locomotor speed), but also its cognitive performance (learning ability). To clarify the proximate basis for this latter effect, we incubated eggs of the scincid lizard Bassiana duperreyi under simulated ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ natural nest temperatures to examine the effect of incubation temperature on the structure of the telencephalon region of the forebrain. Hatchlings from low-temperature incubation had larger telencephalons (both in absolute terms and relative to body size) and larger neurons in their medial cortices, whereas the medial cortices of hatchlings from high-temperature incubation had fewer neurons overall, but greater neuronal density, and more neurons in certain areas. These temperature-induced differences in B. duperreyi forebrain development are consistent with (and may explain) the disparities in learning ability between hatchlings from our two incubation treatments. The phenotypic plasticity of lizard telencephalon anatomy in response to incubation temperature presents exciting opportunities for studies on the evolutionary and developmental determinants of intelligence in vertebrates, but also offers a cautionary tale. Global climate changes, wrought by anthropogenic activities, may directly modify brain structure in reptiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • cognition
  • brain anatomy
  • functional anatomy
  • learning ability
  • squamate reptile


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