Body size, locomotor speed and antipredator behaviour in a tropical snake (Tropidonophis mairii, colubridae): The influence of incubation environments and genetic factors

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Journal Article
Functional Ecology, 2001, 15 (5), pp. 561 - 568
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The physical conditions experienced by reptile embryos inside natural nests can influence the size, shape and behaviour of the resultant hatchlings. Although most reptiles are tropical, the effects of incubation temperatures on offspring phenotypes have received little attention in tropical species. The consequences of differences in thermal variance during incubation on offspring were studied in a tropical natricine snake (the Keelback Tropidonophis mairii), which lays eggs in soil cracks of varying depths. Some 253 eggs from 19 clutches were incubated under two thermal regimes with identical mean temperatures (25.6 °C), but temperatures in the 'variable' treatment fluctuated more (21.8-29.6 °C) than those in the 'constant' temperature treatment (25.2 26.5 °C). These thermal regimes were similar to those of shallow (20 cm deep) and deep (40 cm deep) soil cracks, respectively, and represent thermal conditions inside natural nests and potential nest sites. Incubation temperatures affected body size, shape and antipredator behaviour of hatchling snakes. Snakes from constant temperature incubation were longer and thinner than snakes from high variance incubation. Clutch effects influenced all offspring traits, with significant interactions between clutch of origin and incubation treatment for body size, but not swimming speed or behaviour. There was a significant interaction between incubation treatment and offspring sex on neonate swimming speed. Incubation under cycling thermal regimes significantly increased swimming speeds of females, but had little effect on males. Such sex differences in phenotypic responses of hatchling snakes support a major assumption of the Charnov-Bull hypothesis for the evolution of temperature-dependent sex determination.
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