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Data from: Reptile embryos lack the opportunity to thermoregulate by moving within the egg


Telemeco, Rory S. et al. (2016), Data from: Reptile embryos lack the opportunity to thermoregulate by moving within the egg, Dryad, Dataset,


Thermal taxis by egg-bound embryos has been observed in multiple reptiles and might allow embryos to behaviorally thermoregulate. Because temperature affects development, such thermoregulation could allow embryos to control their fate far more than historically assumed. We assessed the opportunity for embryos to behaviorally thermoregulate in nature by examining thermal gradients within natural nests and eggs of the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina, a species that displays embryonic thermal taxis) and, more generally, by simulating thermal gradients within nests across a range of nest depths, egg sizes, and soil types. We observed little spatial thermal variation within C. serpentina nests, and thermal gradients were poorly transferred to eggs. Furthermore, thermal gradients sufficiently large and constant for behavioral thermoregulation were not predicted to occur in our simulations. Gradients of biologically-relevant magnitude have limited global occurrence, and reverse direction twice daily when they do exist, which is substantially faster than embryos can shift position within the egg. Our results imply that reptile embryos will rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to behaviorally thermoregulate by moving within the egg. We suggest that embryonic thermal taxis instead represents a play behavior, which may be adaptive or selectively neutral, and results from the mechanisms for behavioral thermoregulation in free-living stages "coming online" prior to hatching.

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