The effect of caudal autotomy on reproductive investment in females of a viviparous skink, Niveoscincus metallicus, was investigated to examine the relative importance of lipid depletion and energetic diversion to this activity. Although abdominal fat bodies are present, this species stores most of its energetic reserves in the tail. Since caudal fat is preferentially aggregated toward the base of the tail, autotomy and lipid depletion may be mutually exclusive events. Reproductive consequences following tail loss associated with significant loss of caudal fat were compared with those following autotomy involving no fat loss in two groups of females: females that had lost their tail during their most recent vitellogenic period; and females in which tail loss had occurred in a previous reproductive season. Caudal autotomy during vitellogenesis resulted in a significant reduction in litter size, irrespective of the position of tail loss, suggesting that smaller litters were a consequence of the diversion of energetic resources from reproduction to tail regeneration, rather than the loss of fat reserves per se. However, offspring from mothers that experienced tail loss during vitellogenesis without associated loss of fat reserves were significantly larger in size (snout–vent length and mass) and had longer tails than those from any other group. We suggest that this was probably achieved through facultative placental transfer during gestation, although the possibility that more yolk was allocated to each egg cannot be discounted. Sprint speed and the size of abdominal fat reserves at birth and postnatal growth were not correlated with either recency of autotomy or the location of the tail break.
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