Hydric conditions during incubation influence phenotypes of neonatal reptiles in the field

Brooke L. Bodensteiner, Timothy S. Mitchell, Jeramie T. Strickland, Fredric J. Janzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Phenotypic variation is strongly impacted by environmental conditions experienced during development. Substantial laboratory research has shown that reptiles with flexible-shelled eggs are particularly sensitive to hydric conditions, yet research on nests in the wild is sparse. In this 2-year field experiment, we explore the influence of hydric conditions during incubation on phenotypic traits of hatchling painted turtles (Chrysemys picta). Using a split-clutch design, we created two artificial nests adjacent to each maternally selected nest site. Half the eggs incubated in a nest that received regular supplemental watering, while the control nest was exposed to natural precipitation only. Our results suggest that the influence of the hydric environment on developing reptilian embryos is context dependent. Supplemental water applied to nests in a drier than normal season elicited the expected biotic responses, based on laboratory experiments. However, when the soil surrounding C. picta eggs was already highly moist, the additional water from supplemental application effectively stunted embryonic development. Our experiment confirms that hydric conditions of the soil during incubation in the wild can substantially influence phenotypic variation of reptiles with flexible-shelled eggs. Additionally, our experiment highlights the importance of complex interactions in the field that are often unexplored in laboratory experiments, reiterating the importance of validating laboratory work with field experiments. 2014 British Ecological Society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)710-717
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Egg incubation
  • Hydric conditions
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Reptile
  • Soil moisture

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