Utilisation of Nutrients by Embryos of the Enigmatic Australian Viviparous Skink Niveoscincus Coventryi

Document Type


Publication Date



The Eugongylus species group of Australian lygosomine skinks provides an unparalleled opportunity to study the evolution of placentotrophy. Viviparity and placentotrophy have evolved in two lineages, currently recognised as the genera Pseudemoia and Niveoscincus. The genus Niveoscincus is important because it is the only lineage of squamates in which variation in placental morphology and in the pattern of embryonic nutrition is known. Niveoscincus coventryi has the least complex placental morphology among species currently assigned to the genus. We quantified the net uptake of nutrients across the placenta of N. coventryi for comparison with other species in the genus and with other viviparous and oviparous lizards. The pattern of embryonic nutrition of N. coventryi is similar to other viviparous lizards with simple placentae in that there is no net uptake of dry matter during development but there is a net uptake of water, calcium, potassium, and sodium. There is no net uptake of lipid, nitrogen (an index of protein), or magnesium. We conclude that N. coventryi is predominantly lecithotrophic. Further, if N. coventryi is the sister taxon to Tasmanian Niveoscincus, then the distribution of patterns of embryonic nutrition among members of this clade suggests that the evolution of placentotrophy occurred during radiation of this lineage in Tasmania.