Nesting in a thermally challenging environment: nest-site selection in a rock-dwelling gecko, Oedura lesueurii (Reptilia: Gekkonidae)
In egg-laying species, maternal oviposition choice can influence egg survival and offspring phenotypes. According to the maternal-preference offspring-performance hypothesis, females should choose oviposition sites that are optimal for offspring fitness. However, in thermally challenging environments, maternal oviposition behaviour may be constrained by the limited availability of suitable oviposition sites. We investigated nest-site selection in a nocturnal lizard [velvet gecko Oedura lesueurii (Dumeril and Bibron)] that inhabits a thermally challenging environment in south-eastern Australia. The viability of these gecko populations is critical for the persistence of an endangered snake species (Hoplocephalus bungaroides Wagler) that feeds heavily on velvet geckos. Female geckos chose nest sites nonrandomly, with 87% of nests (N = 30) being laid in deep crevices. By contrast, only 13% of clutches were laid under rocks, which were the most readily available potential nest sites. Nest success in crevices was high (100%), but no eggs hatched from nests under rocks. Temperatures in nest crevices remained relatively low and constant throughout the incubation period (mean = 22.7 degrees C, range 21.0-24.5 degrees C), whereas thermal regimes under rocks showed large diurnal fluctuations. Geckos selected crevices that were deeper, had less canopy cover, and were warmer than most available crevices; in 85% of cases, such crevices were used simultaneously by more than one female. The thermally distinctive attributes of nest sites, and their frequent communal use, suggest that nest sites are a scarce resource for female velvet geckos, and that the shading of rock outcrops through vegetation encroachment may influence nest success in this species.