The evolution of reproductive effort in lizards and snakes

Richard Shine, Lin Schwarzkopf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


Life history theory suggests that the optimal evolved level of reproductive effort (RE) for an organism depends upon the degree to which additional current reproductive investment reduces future reproductive output. Future reproduction can be decreased in two ways, through (i) decreases in the organism's survival rate, and/or (ii) decreases in the organism's growth (and hence subsequent fecundity). The latter tradeoff-that is, the "potential fecundity cost"-should affect the evolution of RE only in species with relatively high survival rate, a relatively high rate offecundity increase with body size, or a relatively high reproductive frequency per annum. Unless these conditions are met, the probable benefit in future fecundity obtained from decreasing present reproductive output is too low for natural selection to favor any reduction in RE below the maximum physiologically possible. Published data on survival rate, reproductive frequency and relative clutch mass (ReM) suggest that many lizard species fall well below the level at which natural selection can be expected to influence RE through such "potential fecundity" tradeoffs. Hence, the relative allocation of resources between growth and reproduction is unlikely to be directly optimized by natural selection in these animals. Instead, energy allocation should influence the evolution of RE only indirectly, via effects on an organism's probability of survival during reproduction. Survival costs ofreproduction may be the most important evolutionary determinants of RE in many reptiles, and information on the nature and extent ofsuch costs is needed before valid measures of reptilian RE can be constructed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-75
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • fecundity
  • lizards
  • reproduction
  • reptiles
  • snakes


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