Alter incubation temperatures to achieve optimal/desired sex ratio: Tuatara
Overall effectiveness category Awaiting assessment
Number of studies: 2
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Background information and definitions
Incubation temperatures (for example warmer or cooler, constant or fluctuating) can influence the sex, size, shape, colour, behaviour, movement ability and post-hatching growth of reptile hatchlings and newborns (Booth et al. 2006). Practitioners carrying out conservation activities aimed at maximising hatching success, such as relocating eggs for artificial incubation or to on-beach hatcheries, will therefore need to consider the potential impact of temperature during incubation on hatchlings and populations. Human-induced climate change may also influence the sex ratios of some species of reptiles and limit the viability of populations over time. It may be possible to counter the impacts of climate change on affected populations by managing temperatures during incubation to create appropriate sex ratios.
This action includes studies that test the impact of different temperatures on the sex ratio of reptile hatchlings or newborns. For studies that discuss the effectiveness of relocating tuatara nests/eggs for incubation more generally, see Relocate nests/eggs for artificial incubation, Relocate nests/eggs to a nearby natural setting (not including hatcheries), and Relocate nests/eggs to a hatchery. For studies that discuss the effectiveness of captive breeding more generally, see Breed reptiles in captivity.
Due to the number of studies found, this action has been split by species group, though no studies were found for amphisbaenians. See here for: Sea turtles; Tortoises, terrapins, side-necked & softshell turtles; Snakes & lizards or Crocodilians.
Booth D.T. (2006) Influence of incubation temperature on hatchling phenotype in reptiles. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 79, 274–281.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated study in 1998 in a captive setting in New Zealand (Nelson et al. 2004) found that incubating tuatara Sphenodon punctatus eggs at higher temperatures resulted in more male hatchlings compared to cooler temperatures. Results were not statistically tested. More male hatchlings were produced at the highest incubation temperature (22°C: 100% of 113 hatchlings were male) compared to the intermediate temperature (21°C: 4% of 80 hatchlings were male) and lowest temperature (18°C: 0% of 105 hatchlings were male). In 1998, a total of 320 eggs were collected either from natural nests (154 eggs from 29 clutches) or by inducing females to lay eggs with oxytocin (166 eggs from 21 clutches). Eggs were incubated in moist vermiculite in plastic containers, with clutches divided equally for incubation at 18°C, 21°C or 22°C. The sex of young tuatara was determined one year after hatchling using a surgical procedure.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, controlled study in a captive setting in Wellington, New Zealand (Mitchell et al. 2006) found that incubating eggs of two populations of tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri and Sphenodon punctatus) at higher temperatures produced more male hatchlings. Incubating eggs at higher temperatures resulted in more male offspring (22.1–24°C: 100% of 7–113 eggs produced males) compared to at lower temperatures (18–18.3°C: 0–8% of 12–105 eggs produced males). For one population (Sphenodon guntheri), males were produced above 21.6°C, and for the other population (Sphenodon punctatus), males were produced above 22.0°C. In 2000, a total of 71 Sphenodon guntheri eggs were collected from North Brother Island by inducing gravid females to lay eggs with oxytocin (49 eggs) or removing eggs from nests (22 eggs). Eggs were placed in moist vermiculite and randomly assigned to incubate at 18°C, 21°C, 22°C or 23°C. The sex of these hatchlings was determined via a surgical procedure (see paper for details). In 2003, fifteen eggs from a captive female (Sphenodon punctatus) were incubated at 18°C for seven weeks before being moved to 21.5°C (7 eggs) or 24.1°C (8 eggs). For eggs that failed to develop fully, sex could still be determined in some cases. Data from a number of other studies on incubation temperatures and sex ratios from 1989–1991 and 1999 were also included for comparison (see paper for details).Study and other actions tested
Where has this evidence come from?
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This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:Reptile Conservation
Reptile Conservation - Published 2021