Phenotypes and Survival of Hatchling Lizards


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Virginia Tech


The phenotypes of hatchling reptiles are influenced by the environmental conditions that embryos experience during incubation, by yolk invested into the egg, and by the genetic contributions of the parents. Phenotypic traits are influenced by these factors in ways that potentially affect the fitness of hatchlings. The physical conditions that embryos experience within the nest affects development, hatching success, and hatchling phenotypes. Thus, the nest site that a female selects can influence the survival of her offspring as well as her overall fitness. In Chapter 1, I addressed this issue through a nest site selection experiment designed to determine the substrate temperature and moisture conditions that female eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) select when provided a range of conditions from which to choose. In general, I found that females selected nest sites with conditions that yield high hatching success.

In Chapter two, I investigated the relative contributions of incubation moisture conditions, maternal yolk investment, and clutch (genotype) to variation in hatchling phenotypes and survival under field conditions. Eggs from 28 clutches were distributed among two moisture treatments; wet (-150 kPa) and dry (-530 kPa). In another treatment, yolk was removed from eggs to determine the affect of yolk quantity on hatchling phenotypes. After hatching, several phenotypic traits (mass, snout-vent length, tail length, body shape, thermal preference, running speed, desiccation rate, and growth rate) were measured. Hatchlings were subsequently marked and released at a field site in southwest Virginia. Hatchlings were recaptured twice weekly prior to winter and the following spring to monitor growth and survival. I found that incubation moisture and yolk removal affected only hatchling body size; individuals from the dry and yolk removed treatments were smaller in body size than those from the wet treatment. However, clutch was the most important source of phenotypic variation; all phenotypes were affected by clutch. Significant clutch effects suggested the possibility that phenotypic variation had at least some genetic basis. In the field, survival was not affected by incubation moisture and yolk removal, and overall survival was not associated with hatchling body size. Survivors and nonsurvivors differed only in growth rate in the field and running speed measured in the laboratory. Survivors ran faster and grew more slowly than nonsurvivors. To examine the association of clutch with survival, I used clutch mean values to look at the relationship between phenotype and survival. Clutches that produced relatively slow growing individuals and fast runners had higher survival rates than clutches that produced relatively rapid growing individuals and slow runners. In order to grow rapidly, an individual must eat more than slowly growing individuals. Thus, rapid growth rate may increase risk of predation through its association with foraging activity. Individuals that run fast should be capable of capturing prey and evading predators more effectively than individuals that run slowly. Overall, these results emphasize the importance of clutch to variation in phenotypes and survival in hatchling Sceloporus undulatus.



Yolk investment, Survival, Sceloporus undulatus, Running speed, Incubation moisture, Growth rate, Clutch effects