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Plastic responses to temperature during embryonic development are common in ectotherms, but their evolutionary relevance is poorly understood. Using a combination of field and laboratory approaches, we demonstrate altitudinal divergence in the strength of effects of maternal thermal opportunity on offspring birth date and body mass in a live-bearing lizard (Niveoscincus ocellatus). Poor thermal opportunity decreased birth weight at low altitudes where selection on body mass was negligible. In contrast, there was no effect of maternal thermal opportunity on body mass at high altitudes where natural selection favored heavy offspring. The weaker effect of poor maternal thermal opportunity on offspring development at high altitude was accompanied by a more active thermoregulation and higher body temperature in highland females. This may suggest that passive effects of temperature on embryonic development have resulted in evolution of adaptive behavioral compensation for poor thermal opportunity at high altitudes, but that direct effects of maternal thermal environment are maintained at low altitudes because they are not selected against. More generally, we suggest that phenotypic effects of maternal thermal opportunity or incubation temperature in reptiles will most commonly reflect weak selection for canalization or selection on maternal strategies rather than adaptive plasticity to match postnatal environments.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2313 - 2324


Adaptation, Biological, Altitude, Animals, Animals, Newborn, Biological Evolution, Body Temperature Regulation, Body Weights and Measures, Embryonic Development, Female, Life Cycle Stages, Lizards, Phenotype, Selection, Genetic, Survival Analysis, Viviparity, Nonmammalian