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Growing as slow as a turtle: Unexpected maturational differences in a small, long-lived species

November 18, 2021

Turtle body size is associated with demographic and other traits like mating success, reproductive output, maturity, and survival. As such, growth analyses are valuable for testing life history theory, demographic modeling, and conservation planning. Two important but unsettled research areas relate to growth after maturity and growth rate variation. If individuals exhibit indeterminate growth after maturity, older adults may have an advantage in fecundity, survival, or both over younger/smaller adults. Similarly, depending on how growth varies, a portion of the population may mature earlier, grow larger, or both. We used 23-years of capture-mark-recapture data to study growth and maturity in the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), a species suffering severe population declines and for which demographic data are needed for development of effective conservation and management strategies. There was strong support for models incorporating sex as a factor, with the interval growth model reparametrized for capture-mark-recapture data producing later mean maturation estimates than the age-based growth model. We found most individuals (94%) continued growing after maturity, but the instantaneous relative annual plastral growth rate was low. We recommend future studies examine the possible contribution of such slow, continued adult growth to fecundity and survival. Even seemingly negligible amounts of annual adult growth can have demographic consequences affecting the population vital rates for long-lived species.

Publication Year 2021
Title Growing as slow as a turtle: Unexpected maturational differences in a small, long-lived species
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0259978
Authors Devin Edmonds, Michael J. Dreslik, Jeffrey E. Lovich, Thomas P. Wilson, Carl H. Ernst
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70226569
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center