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Nest site choice compensates for climate effects on sex ratios in a lizard with environmental sex determination

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J. Sean Doody

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Theoretical models suggest that in changing environments natural selection on two traits, maternal nesting behaviour and pivotal temperatures (those that divide the sexes) is important for maintaining viable offspring sex ratios in species with environmental sex determination (ESD). Empirical evidence, however, is lacking. In this paper, we provide such evidence from a study of clinal variation in four sex-determining traits (maternal nesting behaviour, pivotal temperatures, nesting phenology, and nest depth) in Physignathus lesueurii, a wide-ranging ESD lizard inhabiting eastern Australia. Despite marked differences in air and soil temperatures across our five study sites spanning 19 degrees latitude and 1200 m in elevation, nest temperatures did not differ significantly among sites. Lizards compensated for climatic differences chiefly by selecting more open nest sites with higher incident radiation at cooler sites. Clinal variation in the onset of nesting also compensated for climatic differences, but to a lesser extent. There was no evidence of compensation through pivotal temperatures or nest depth. More broadly, our results extend to the egg stage the life history prediction that behaviour is the chief compensatory mechanism for climatic differences experienced by species spanning environmental extremes. Furthermore, our study was unique in revealing that nest site choice influenced mainly the daily range in nest temperatures, rather than mean temperatures, in a shallow-nesting reptile. Finally, indirect evidence suggests that the cue used by nesting lizards was radiation or temperature (through basking or assessing substrate temperatures), not visual detection of canopy openness. We conclude that maternal nesting behaviour and nesting phenology are traits subject to sex ratio selection in P. lesueurii, and thus, must be considered among the repertoire of ESD species for responding to climate change.


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Kluwer Academic Publishers

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.