Reproduction in dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion) with particular reference to B. pumilum occurring in fire-prone fynbos habitat

Jackson, Jennifer C. (Jennifer Claire) (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2007-12)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are home to an endemic group of dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion). They are small, viviparous, insectivorous, arboreal lizards, found in a variety of vegetation types and climatic conditions. Previous work on Bradypodion pumilum suggests prolonged breeding and high fecundity which is very unusual for a viviparous lizard inhabiting a Mediterranean environment. It has been suggested that the alleged prolonged reproduction observed in B. pumilum may be a reproductive adaptation to life in a fire-prone habitat. In addition, Chamaesaura anguina a viviparous, arboreal grass lizard also occurs in the fire-frequent fynbos and exhibits an aseasonal female reproductive cycle with high clutch sizes; highly unusual for the Cordylidae. With the observation of two species both inhabiting a fire-driven environment and exhibiting aseasonal reproductive cycles with high fecundity, it was thought that this unpredictable environment may shape the reproductive strategies of animals inhabiting it. However, detailed reproductive data for B. pumilum were unavailable. The first aim was provide baseline reproductive data for B. pumilum and to discuss the reproductive strategy in relation to a fire-prone environment. To establish the significance of fire in the reproductive strategy of B. pumilum, reproductive data of other Bradypodion species, not inhabiting the fire-prone area was required. The second aim was to provide baseline reproductive data for Bradypodion with discussion on possible scenarios facilitating the evolution of dwarf chameleon reproduction. Bradypodion pumilum specimens were collected in monthly samples from Stellenbosch and Somerset West in the Western Cape, South Africa. Specimens of other Bradypodion species were obtained from South African museums. Data were collected for both sexes of Bradypodion, and sperm storage ability was investigated in B. pumilum. Bradypodion females all showed an aseasonal reproductive cycle with relatively high clutch sizes for their body size and the possibility of individual females producing multiple clutches per year. Male Bradypodion have sperm available the entire year round however, there appears to be an increase in sperm production in autumn and again in spring in B. pumilum. Elements of this bimodal pattern are seen in other Bradypodion species. Dwarf chameleons regardless of habitat and associated climatic conditions are thus able to reproduce through out the year. It has also been demonstrated in B. pumilum that both sexes are able to store sperm and it is expected that other Bradypodion species would posses this character. This type of reproductive strategy is highly unusual for viviparous, temperate-zone lizards. It is likely that the cooling of the climate due to the development of the Benguela current facilitated the transition to viviparity in Bradypodion. Bradypodion may be aseasonal reproducers for a number of reasons. They are of tropical ancestry, they relatively recently inhabited tropical forests, or fluctuations in climate may have caused this. Bradypodion most likely have a high reproductive output due to their intense vulnerability to predation as in other chameleon species. The proposed hypothesis that the unusual reproductive characteristics of B. pumilum (and possibly the ancestral Bradypodion) were due to inhabiting a fire-prone environment now appears an unlikely explanation. However, even if this extraordinary reproduction was not in direct response to fire, the strategy appears beneficial in this type of unpredictable environment.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Suid-Afrika, Lesotho en Swaziland huisves ‘n endemiese groep van dwergverkleurmannetjies (Bradypodion). Hulle is klein, lewendbarende, insekvretende, arboreale akkedisse en word gevind in ‘n verskeidenheid van plantegroeitipes en klimaatsomstandighede. Vorige studies op Bradypodion pumilum dui op ‘n verlengde broeiseisoen en hoë fekunditeit, wat ongewoon is vir ‘n lewendbarende akkedis wat in ‘n Mediterreense omgewing voorkom. Daar is voorheen voorgestel dat die skynbare verlengde voortplanting in B. pumilum ‘n aanpassing tot oorlewing in hoogs brandvatbare habitat kan wees. Chamaesaura anguina is ook ‘n lewenbarende, arboreale akkedis wat in fynbos voorkom wat hoogs vatbaar is vir brande en groot werpsels produseer en ‘n aseisoenale voortplantingsiklus in wyfies toon; hierdie patroon is ongewoon vir lede van die Cordylidae. Met die waarneming dat twee species wat in ‘n brandvatbare omgewing voorkom albei aseisoenale voortplantingsiklusse en hoë fekunditeit toon, het die gedagte ontstaan dat hierdie onvoorspelbare omgewing die voortplantingstrategieë van diere wat daarin voorkom, bepaal. Gedetailleerde voortplantingsdata ontbreek egter vir B. pumilum. Die eerste doelstelling van die studie was dus om basisinligting te voorsien oor voortplanting by B. pumilum en om die voortplantingstrategie aan die hand van die brandvatbare omgewing te bespreek. Om die moontlike rol van brand in die vorming van die voortplantingstrategie van B. pumilum te ondersoek, is voortplantingsdata vir ander Bradypodion species wat nie in brandvatbare habitat voorkom nie, nodig. Die tweede doelstelling was dus om basisinligting oor voortplanting by Bradypodion in die breë in te samel, gevolg deur bespreking van moontlike scenarios in die evolusie van voortplanting by dwergverkleurmannetjies. Bradypodion pumilum eksemplare is maandeliks versamel te Stellenbosch en Somerset-wes in die Weskaap, Suid-Afrika. Eksemplare van ander Bradypodion species is vanaf Suid-Afrikaanse museums verky. Data is vir beide geslagte van Bradypodion versamel, en die vermoë tot spermstoring in B. pumilum bepaal. Bradypodion wyfies het almal ‘n aseisonale voortplantingsiklus getoon met relatief hoë werpselgroottes vir hul liggaamsgrootte en daar bestaan die moontlikheid dat individuele wyfies verskeie werpsels per jaar kan lewer. Bradypodion mannetjies produseer sperms dwarsdeur die hele jaar, maar daar blyk tog ‘n toename in spermstoring te wees in die herfs en weer in die lente in B. pumilum. Spore van hierdie bimodale patroon word in ander Bradypodion species gesien. Dwergverkleurmannetjies is dus instaat om dwardeur die jaar voort te plant, ongeag die habitat en geassosieerde klimaatsomstandighede. Daar is getoon dat beide geslagte van B. pumilum sperms kan stoor en daar word verwag dat ander Bradypodion species ook hierdie vermoë het. Hierdie tipe van voortplantingstrategie is ongewoon vir lewendbarende akkedisse van die gematigde sone. Dit is moontlik dat die ontwikkeling van ‘n koue klimaat weens die onstaan van die Benguela-stroom aanleiding gegee het tot die oorskakeling na lewendbarendheid in Bradypodion. Bradypodion mag aseisonale voortplanting toon vir ‘n aantal moontlike redes. Hulle is van tropiese oorsprong, het redelik onlangs tropiese woude betrek, of fluktuasies in klimaat kon ook die oorsaak wees. Bradypodion het waarskynlik hoë voortplantingsuitset omdat hulle besonder kwesbaar is vir predasie, soos dit die geval is by ander verkleurmannetjies. Die aanvanklike hipotese dat die ongewone voortplantingseienskappe van B. pumilum (en moontlik die voorvaderlike Bradypodion) ‘n gevolg is van lewe in ‘n hoogs brandvatbare omgewing, blyk nou ‘n onwaarskynlik te wees. Selfs as hierdie buitengewone voortplantingstrategie nie ‘n direkte gevolg van brandvatbaarheid is nie, blyk die strategie voordelig te wees vir oorlewing in hierdie onvoorspelbare omgewing.

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