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Embryo development and global change: how do reptile embryos respond to ecologically relevant thermal stress?


Hall, Joshua M
Warner, Daniel A


Tennessee Herpetological Society


Two components of global change, climate change and urbanization, both contribute to increased ambient temperatures that may induce heat stress or mortality in animals. Each phenomenon independently results in both increased mean temperatures and increased maximum day-time temperatures; however, there is also the potential for these components to act synergistically: extreme temperatures due to the urban heat island effect are likely to be exacerbated as the earth’s surface warms due to climate change. Many animals can respond to harmful temperatures behaviorally, by altering their periods of activity or shifting their habitat use. Such behavioral compensation, however, is unavailable to embryos of ectotherms which typically develop inside eggs in the ground and receive little or no parental care. Thus, this early life stage is expected to be more vulnerable to harmful temperatures caused by aspects of global change, and yet, the effects of ecologically relevant thermal stress on these embryos has received little attention. We sought to understand the consequences of such extreme temperatures on embryological development by utilizing two species of lizard (Anolis sagrei and Anolis cristatellus) that commonly inhabit urban areas. We measured ground temperatures in an urban landscape where lizards nest and modeled daily thermal fluctuations that included brief periods of extremely high temperatures. We then subjected eggs of both species to various magnitudes and frequencies of these thermal fluctuations at multiple stages of embryo development. We report results of embryo survival and highlight the potential for extreme incubation temperatures to differentially impact species.