Maternal exposure to predator scents: offspring phenotypic adjustment and dispersal.
Predation is a strong selective pressure generating morphological, physiological and behavioural responses in organisms. As predation risk is often higher during juvenile stages, antipredator defences expressed early in life are paramount to survival. Maternal effects are an efficient pathway to produce such defences. We investigated whether maternal exposure to predator cues during gestation affected juvenile morphology, behaviour and dispersal in common lizards (Zootoca vivipara). We exposed 21 gravid females to saurophagous snake cues for one month while 21 females remained unexposed (i.e. control). We measured body size, preferred temperature and activity level for each neonate, and released them into semi-natural enclosures connected to corridors in order to measure dispersal. Offspring from exposed mothers grew longer tails, selected lower temperatures and dispersed thrice more than offspring from unexposed mothers. Because both tail autotomy and altered thermoregulatory behaviour are common antipredator tactics in lizards, these results suggest that mothers adjusted offspring phenotype to risky natal environments (tail length) or increased risk avoidance (dispersal). Although maternal effects can be passive consequences of maternal stress, our results strongly militate for them to be an adaptive antipredator response that may increase offspring survival prospects.