Life history evolution of the lizard Sceloporus scalaris: comparisons of lowland and montane populations

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Virginia Tech

Within the Sceloporus scalaris species group, some species are oviparous while others are viviparous, suggesting the origin of viviparity is relatively recent. This interpopulation comparison focused on Sceloporus scalaris in Arizona because low elevation (1500 m) and high elevation (2500-2900 m) populations exhibit short and long periods of egg retention, respectively, and increased periods of egg retention are presumably an intermediate step in the evolution of viviparity. Low elevation populations had life histories typical of lowland Sceloporus: eggs are laid at embryonic stages 32-33, clutch sizes are relatively large, hatchlings are relatively small, and more than one clutch is produced per season. In contrast, montane populations retain eggs to embryonic stages 36-38, clutch sizes are relatively small, hatchlings are relatively large, and only one clutch is produced per season. In accord with their lengthy retention, eggshells of montane populations were thinner than those of lowland populations. The assumption that prolonged egg retention is mechanistically associated with relatively thin eggshells was tested by comparing the development of embryos in eggs retained in utero with that of control embryos in eggs incubated in Simulated nests where water and gases were presumably not limited. For the low elevation population, growth rates of embryos retained in utero as long as stage 39 were identical to those of control eggs at the same stages. However, water uptake by retained eggs was confined to the embryo whereas water uptake of control eggs was associated with both the embryo and extraembryonic tissues. These results suggest that the length of egg retention by S. scalaris is not constrained by eggshell thickness, and that the capacity to regulate the water balance of eggs may be an important component of the evolution of viviparity.