JMIH 2014: Effect of Moisture and Substrate on Egg Water Uptake and Phenotypes of Hatchling Lizards (Anolis sagrei)

Following up on yesterday’s post, more research results from the Warner Lab on egg incubation were presented at JMIH. Corey Cates, a masters student from the Warner Lab, presented his data on developmental plasticity in Anolis sagrei. He used an experimental approach to test whether lizards incubated under dry conditions would survive better in a dry habitat than lizards incubated under moist conditions and vice versa. The idea for the study came from the observation that habitat and substrate differs among small islands in Florida. Some islands are scarcely vegetated and have dry substrate consisting of broken shells. Other islands are more densely vegetated and have dark soil that contains organic matter.

Corey collected 128 breeding pairs from four islands and incubated the eggs using the two different substrates. He also tested two different moisture conditions (wet and dry). He found that lizards incubated under wet conditions hatch on average 4-5 days later and hatchlings were significantly heavier than those incubated under dry conditions. In addition, lizards hatch significantly later when incubated in the soil substrate, which retains moisture longer than the broken shells. Corey further tested whether lizards raised under dry conditions have higher desiccation tolerance than lizards from wet conditions. He measured body mass before and after keeping the lizards in a desiccation chamber. Lizards that had developed under wet conditions lost 5% more mass than lizards developed under dry conditions.

Hatchlings incubated under wet conditions lost significantly more mass than hatchlings incubated under dry conditions.

Hatchlings incubated under wet conditions lost significantly more mass than hatchlings incubated under dry conditions.

This suggests, that plastic responses to different developmental conditions have an effect on physiological traits that might increase survival in a specific habitat. To test this, Corey then released the hatchlings on four experimental islands and measured hatchling survival using a recapture method.

Significantly more hatchlings survived in the open, arid habitat when eggs were incubated under dry conditions.

Significantly more hatchlings survived in the open, arid habitat when eggs were incubated under dry conditions.

He found that significantly more hatchlings survived in open, arid habitats when eggs were incubated under dry conditions. No effect of incubation condition on hatchling survival was found in the shaded, moist habitat.

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