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Conditions experienced early in life are known to impact phenotypes in profound ways that can have long-lasting effects on fitness 1,2. Understanding the extent to which developmental environments impact phenotypes is important for addressing many fundamental questions in ecology and evolutionary biology 3-5, as well as predicting the effect environmental change will have on populations both locally and globally 1,6. Reptiles have served as empirical models for understanding how the environment, particularly the thermal environment, experienced by embryos can influence phenotypic variation, including sex ratio, phenology and survival. Despite a substantial amount of experimental studies manipulating early environmental temperatures there are currently no databases collating data from this vast literature.

The RepDevo Database aims to be a comprehensive source of scientific information on developmental plasticity in reptiles. Our goal is to assimilate how developmental environments impact phenotypes to: 1) ascertain knowledge gaps and areas in need of more research so that the field can grow to fill these gaps; 2) provide a database that can be used to address fundamental, global scale impacts of developmental environments on reptile phenotypes; and 3) provide a means by which data can be updated regularly as new knowledge is generated. Currently, we have endeavoured to put together as comprehensive a database as possible on the role of early thermal environments (i.e., incubation temperatures) on phenotypic traits across all orders of reptiles. However, the future plan is to further expand to include other, important developmental effects such as moisture, maternal effects, pH, oxygen concentrations etc.

Currently, the database contains trait data for nearly 155 species from all four Reptilian orders (Testudines, Squamates, Crocodilia and Rhychocephalia) (Figure 1).


Figure 1 – Phylogeny of 140 species across all four major Reptilian orders in the RepDevo database.

The RepDevo database contains nearly 10,000 estimates of trait means on diverse trait types, along with their associated error and sample size. Traits are categorised into similar types (Figure 2) and include (with examples):

Morphology: body size (snout-vent length, mass), tail length, head width and length,  limb lengths

Growth: growth rates, shedding rates

Physiology: Metabolic rates, heart rate, hormone concentrations

Incubation: Development time or incubation duration

Survival: Hatching success, survival to a particular age

Performance: Sprint speed, endurance, swimming speed

Behaviour: Activity, various other behavioural traits.



The database, citation files and meta-data can be downloaded from the Data page. To cite the Database in publications please cite the version as follows:

Noble, D.W.A, Stenhouse, V., Riley, J.E., Warner, D.A., While, G.M., Du, W.-G., Uller, T. and Schwanz, L.E. (2018) A comprehensive database of thermal developmental plasticity in reptiles: Reptile Development Database. Scientific Data, in press.


1          Noble, D. W. A., Stenhouse, V. & Schwanz, L. E. Developmental temperatures and phenotypic plasticity in reptiles: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biological Reviews, 93: 72–97, doi:10.1111/brv.12333 (2018).

2          Monaghan, P. Early growth conditions, phenotypic development and environmental change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 363, 1635–1645 (2008).

3          Schwarzkopf, L. & Andrews, R. M. Are moms manipulative or just selfish? Evaluating the “maternal manipulation hypothesis” and implications for life-history studies of reptiles. Herpetologica 68, 147–159 (2012).

4          Shine, R. A new hypothesis for the evolution of viviparity in reptiles. The American Naturalist 145, 809–823 (1995).

5          While, G. M., Uller, T. & Wapstra, E. Offspring performance and the adaptive benefits of prolonged pregnancy: experimental tests in a viviparous lizard. Functional Ecology 23, 818–825 (2009).

6          Schwanz, L. E. & Janzen, F. J. Climate change and temperature-dependent sex determination: can plasticity in maternal nesting behavior prevent extreme sex ratios? . Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 81, 826–834 (2008)