Parental care is taxonomically widespread because it improves developmental conditions and thus fitness of offspring. Although relatively simplistic compared with parental behaviors of other taxa, python egg-brooding behavior exemplifies parental care because it mediates a trade-off between embryonic respiration and hydration. However, because egg brooding increases gas-exchange resistance between embryonic and nest environments and because female pythons do not adjust their brooding behavior in response to the increasing metabolic requirements of developing offspring, python egg brooding imposes hypoxic costs on embryos during the late stages of incubation. We conducted a series of experiments to determine whether eggshells coadapted with brooding behavior to minimize the negative effects of developmental hypoxia. We tested the hypotheses that python eggshells (1) increase permeability over time to accommodate increasing embryonic respiration and (2) exhibit permeability plasticity in response to chronic hypoxia. Over incubation, we serially measured the atomic and structural components of Children's python (Antaresia childreni) eggshells as well as in vivo and in vitro gas exchange across eggshells. In support of our first hypothesis, A. childreni eggshells exhibited a reduced fibrous layer, became more permeable, and facilitated greater gas exchange as incubation progressed. Our second hypothesis was not supported, as incubation O2 concentration did not affect the shells' permeabilities to O2 and H2O vapor. Our results suggest that python eggshell permeability changes during incubation but that the alterations over time are fixed and independent of environmental conditions. These findings are of broad evolutionary interest because they demonstrate that, even in relatively simple parental-care models, successful parent-offspring relationships depend on adjustments made by both the parent (i.e., egg-brooding behavioral shifts) and the offspring (i.e., changes in eggshell permeability).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology