Ecological and evolutionary significance of a lack of capacity for extended developmental arrest in crocodilian eggs

Sean A. Williamson, Roger G. Evans, S. Charlie Manolis, Grahame J. Webb, Richard D. Reina

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    Hypoxia within the oviducts maintains embryonic arrest in turtles at the pre-ovipositional stage, which expands the timeframe over which nesting can occur without compromising embryo survival. The arrest can be extended post-oviposition through incubation of eggs in hypoxia. We determined whether crocodilian embryos have this same capacity. We also tested whether increased oxygen availability during incubation alters hatching success. We incubated freshly laid saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) eggs (N=83) at 32°C in one of five treatments; control (normoxia; 21% O2), 3-day and 6-day hypoxia (1% O2), or 3-day and 6-day hyperoxia (42% O2). Incubation (approx. 82 days) was then completed in normoxia. There was a significant effect of treatment on survival of embryos through to hatching (p<0.001). The hypoxic treatments resulted in almost no hatching (6.7% and 0% survival for the 3- and 6-day treatments, respectively), while the hyperoxic and control treatments resulted in normal to high hatching success (86.6%, 100% and 64.2% for the control, 3- and 6-day hyperoxic treatments, respectively). Unlike turtles, hypoxic incubation of crocodile eggs failed to delay development. Our results provide the first experimental evidence that, unlike turtles, crocodiles do not exhibit embryonic arrest when incubated under hypoxic conditions immediately following oviposition. An absence of embryonic arrest is of ecological and evolutionary significance, as it implies that crocodilians lack an ability to avoid adverse environmental conditions through delayed nesting and that, unlike turtles, embryonic arrest may not be a potential explanation for the lack of viviparity in the order Crocodylia.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number171439
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalRoyal Society Open Science
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2017


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