Evolution of diel activity patterns in skinks (Squamata: Scincidae), the world's second-largest family of terrestrial vertebrates

Alex Slavenko*, Liat Dror, Marco Camaiti, Jules E. Farquhar, Glenn M. Shea, David G. Chapple, Shai Meiri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Many animals have strict diel activity patterns, with unique adaptations for either diurnal or nocturnal activity. Diel activity is phylogenetically conserved, yet evolutionary shifts in diel activity occur and lead to important changes in an organism's morphology, physiology, and behavior. We use phylogenetic comparative methods to examine the evolutionary history of diel activity in skinks, one of the largest families of terrestrial vertebrates. We examine how diel patterns are associated with microhabitat, ambient temperatures, and morphology. We found support for a nondiurnal ancestral skink. Strict diurnality in crown group skinks only evolved during the Paleogene. Nocturnal habits are associated with fossorial activity, limb reduction and loss, and warm temperatures. Our results shed light on the evolution of diel activity patterns in a large radiation of terrestrial ectotherms and reveal how both intrinsic biotic and extrinsic abiotic factors can shape the evolution of animal activity patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1195-1208
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


FundersFunder number
Australian Friends of Tel Aviv‐Monash University
Equity Trustees Charitable Foundation
Monash-Museums Victoria Robert Blackwood
Monash‐Museums Victoria Robert Blackwood
Tel Aviv-Monash University
Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment
Royal Society181082
Australian Research CouncilFT200100108
Ecological Society of Australia


    • Activity times
    • MCMCglmm
    • Scincidae
    • ancestral state reconstruction
    • macroevolution
    • phylogenetic ordinal regression


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