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Low food availability during gestation enhances offspring post-natal growth, but reduces survival, in a viviparous lizard

  • Thomas Botterill-James
  • Kirke L. Munch
  • Ben Halliwell
  • David G. Chapple
  • Michael G. Gardner
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Geoffrey M. WhileEmail author
Behavioral ecology – original research


The environment experienced by a mother can have profound effects on the fitness of her offspring (i.e., maternal effects). Maternal effects can be adaptive when the developmental environments experienced by offspring promote phenotypes that provide fitness benefits either via matching offspring phenotype to the post-developmental environment (also known as anticipatory maternal effects) or through direct effects on offspring growth and survival. We tested these hypotheses in a viviparous lizard using a factorial experimental design in which mothers received either high or low amounts of food during gestation, and resultant offspring were raised on either high or low amounts of food post-birth. We found no effect of food availability during gestation on reproductive traits of mothers or offspring traits at birth. However, offspring from mothers who received low food during gestation exhibited a greater increase in condition in the post-birth period, suggesting some form of priming of offspring by mothers to cope with an anticipated poor environment after birth. Offspring that received low food during gestation were also more likely to die, suggesting a trade-off for this accelerated growth. There were also significant effects of post-birth food availability on offspring snout-vent length and body condition growth, with offspring with high food availability post birth doing better. However, the effects of the pre- and post-natal resource evnironment on offspring growth were independent on one another, therefore, providing no support for the presence of anticipatory maternal effects in the traditional sense.


Egernia Liopholis Lizard Developmental plasticity Maternal effect 



We thank Tobias Uller for discussion of ideas and detailed comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The work was funded by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund (to TBJ) and the Australian Research Council (grant number DP150102900 to GMW, MGG and DGC). GMW was supported by the Australian Research Council (Grant number DE150100336). All work was carried out with approval from the Animal Ethics Committee at the University of Tasmania (Ethics Approval Number A0015058).

Author contribution statement

TBJ, BH, EW, and GMW conceived the ideas and designed methodology with input from all other authors. TBJ, BH, and KM collected the data. TBJ analysed the data. TBJ and GMW led the writing of the manuscript with all authors contributing critically to the drafts and giving final approval for publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  3. 3.College of Science and EngineeringFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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