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How a thermal dichotomy in nesting environments influences offspring of the world's most northerly oviparous snake, Natrix natrix (Colubridae)
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4560-6271
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
2012 (English)In: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, ISSN 0024-4066, E-ISSN 1095-8312, Vol. 107, no 4, 833-844 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Temperature has a major influence on the rate of embryonic development in ectothermic organisms. While incubation experiments unambiguously show that constant high temperature accelerates development and shortens embryonic life, studies on the effect of fluctuating temperatures have generated contradictory results. Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) occur at latitudes and altitudes that are unusually cool for an oviparous reptile. In these cool climates females typically lay their eggs in heat-generating anthropogenic microhabitats that provide either a highly fluctuating (compost piles) or a relatively constant (manure heaps) thermal nesting environment. A laboratory experiment with fluctuating and constant incubation temperatures mimicking those recorded in such nests in the field showed that this nest-site dichotomy influences the development of the embryos, and the morphology and locomotor performance of the hatchlings. The incubation period increased at fluctuating temperatures and the fact that the rate of embryonic development showed a decelerating pattern with temperature suggests that periods of low temperature had a relatively larger influence on average development than periods of high temperature. Our study demonstrates how a dichotomy in the nesting environments available to female grass snakes in cool climates can affect variation in the duration of the incubation period and offspring phenotypes in ways that may have consequences for fitness.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 107, no 4, 833-844 p.
Keyword [en]
compost, development, embryo, incubation, manure heap, phenotype, reptiles, thermal fluctuation
National Category
Zoology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-84804DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2012.01972.xISI: 000311404100009OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-84804DiVA: diva2:581505
Funder
A multiscale, cross‐disciplinary approach to the study of climate change effect on ecosystem services and biodiversitySwedish Research CouncilSwedish Research Council Formas
Note

AuthorCount:3;

Available from: 2013-01-02 Created: 2013-01-02 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Nesting ecology of the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and its implications for conservation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Nesting ecology of the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and its implications for conservation
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The onset of agriculture about 12,000 years ago has had a major influence on the biodiversity of plants and animals. Unfortunately, the rapid changes in agricultural practices that has occurred in recent times has negatively affected many farmland species. One such species is the grass snake (Natrix natrix), which has been reported to decline in many parts of Europe, including Sweden. The grass snake is unique, not only in that it is the most northerly distributed oviparous reptile in the world, but also because of its habit of using anthropogenic heat sources such as manure heaps and composts as nesting-sites. Unfortunately changes in manure management and abandonment of farmlands have resulted in a decline and fragmentation of these environments. This may pose a threat for the northernmost populations of the grass snake, because natural nests in these areas may not provide sufficient heat for the eggs to hatch. The eggs and embryos of reptiles are highly sensitive to incubation temperatures, which can influence not only hatching success but also many phenotypic traits in the hatchlings. In this thesis I used a series of laboratory and field experiments to investigate the importance of anthropogenic heat sources for the reproductive ecology of cold-climate populations of grass snakes.  More specifically, I aimed to investigate thermal regimes of nests and how they influence embryonic development and offspring traits associated with survival and fitness. The results showed that manure heaps and composts are significantly warmer than potential natural nests and that natural nests do not provide sufficient heat to sustain embryonic development. Further, manure heaps were warmer and more constant in temperature than composts, resulting in higher hatching success and earlier hatching in manure heaps. The higher thermal variability in composts increased the frequency of abnormalities that are likely to negatively affect survival and fitness. In conclusion, this thesis shows that the use of anthropogenic heat sources has enabled grass snakes to expand their range farther north than any other oviparous reptile and that the thermal dichotomy in the primary nesting environments used by grass snakes contribute to important life-history variation in this species. These findings have important implications for conservation of reptile populations in general and grass snakes in particular.  

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 2016
Keyword
agriculture, anthropogenic, climate, embryonic development, incubation
National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-125524 (URN)978-91-7649-307-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-02-19, Vivi Täckholmsalen, Svante Arrhenius väg 20 A, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2016-01-27 Created: 2016-01-13 Last updated: 2017-02-23Bibliographically approved

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