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Environmental Stress and Embryonic Development  in Oviparous Vertebrates

Zebrafish embryo

Oviparous (egg-laying) vertebrates typically develop in fluctuating environments with little or no parental care. This reproductive strategy exposes the embryo to environmental stress at a critical stage of life when defence mechanisms may not be fully developed. The consequences can be severe, because environmental fluctuations during development can permanently alter organismal structure, function and behaviour, and these traits can even be inherited by subsequent generations. Therefore, the developmental plasticity of oviparous vertebrates plays a critical role in determining their future fitness and survival.

Why is it important to study the effects of the environment on embryonic development?

Turtle developmental programming
  • Many oviparous vertebrates bury or lay their eggs in environments which can become hypoxic and/or hypercapnic (lack of oxygen and an increase in carbon dioxide)

  • The frequency and intensity of environmental hypoxia and hypercapnia in oviparous nests is increasing because of climate change

  • Such rapid changes in the severity, frequency and spatial scale of these stressors will significantly challenge the developmental plasticity of oviparous species.

  • Thus, it is important to gain an understanding of both the short- and long-term consequences of environmental stress on the embryonic physiology of these vulnerable animals.

Embryo Stress Projects

Reptile development
Effects of gestational hyperglycemia
Turtle developmental programming


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