Parental care, cognition and the evolution of sociality in geckos

Project Leader: Birgit Szabo, Eva Ringler

Reptiles show a large diversity of social behaviours including parental care. From crocodiles guarding their eggs and protecting their young, snakes coiling around their eggs to brood them and lizards that live in large multi-generational family groups just to name a few. Despite this diversity, research on the topic of the evolution of sociality and/or the causes and consequences of parental care are largely ignore reptiles. As such, studying reptilian parental care and how it might lead to more stable social aggregations are of great value for our understanding of the evolution of complex social group living. In this project we investigate parental care, its’ variation and consequences on offspring. We use the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) as our model species because males and females show parental care through egg guarding and offspring protection. Furthermore, juveniles stay with their parents for several months until sexual maturity. Although Tokay geckos are not the only species of gecko that show parental care, their behaviour is well described, they are relatively easy to acquire through the pet trade and they breed well in captivity. We will quantify the individual differences in care behaviour that adults show and how good cognitive abilities are related to the quality of care that adults show. We will influence the incubation environment of the eggs as well as the social environment after hatching to characterise the effects of parental care (egg and juvenile attendance and guarding), especially looking at changes is cognitive ability, in comparison the absence of care. We will also study Tokay geckos parental care in the wild in Indonesia to better understand he natural history of this species. This project will not just provide significant new insights into the behaviour and cognition of the Tokay gecko, but will also provide a detailed examination of the care behaviour these lizards show and how this care behaviour benefits the offspring. Together with the data collected on wild individuals we will be able to understand why parental care and group living might have evolved in this species which might help us generate new hypotheses on how parental care and complex sociality has evolved in other species.