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A validation of 11 body-condition indices in a giant snake species that exhibits positive allometry

August 1, 2017

Body condition is a gauge of the energy stores of an animal, and though it has important implications for fitness, survival, competition, and disease, it is difficult to measure directly. Instead, body condition is frequently estimated as a body condition index (BCI) using length and mass measurements. A desirable BCI should accurately reflect true body condition and be unbiased with respect to size (i.e., mean BCI estimates should not change across different length or mass ranges), and choosing the most-appropriate BCI is not straightforward. We evaluated 11 different BCIs in 248 Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus), organisms that, like other snakes, exhibit simple body plans well characterized by length and mass. We found that the length-mass relationship in Burmese pythons is positively allometric, where mass increases rapidly with respect to length, and this allowed us to explore the effects of allometry on BCI verification. We employed three alternative measures of ‘true’ body condition: percent fat, scaled fat, and residual fat. The latter two measures mostly accommodated allometry in true body condition, but percent fat did not. Our inferences of the best-performing BCIs depended heavily on our measure of true body condition, with most BCIs falling into one of two groups. The first group contained most BCIs based on ratios, and these were associated with percent fat and body length (i.e., were biased). The second group contained the scaled mass index and most of the BCIs based on linear regressions, and these were associated with both scaled and residual fat but not body length (i.e., were unbiased). Our results show that potential differences in measures of true body condition should be explored in BCI verification studies, particularly in organisms undergoing allometric growth. Furthermore, the caveats of each BCI and similarities to other BCIs are important to consider when determining which BCI is appropriate for any particular taxon.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title A validation of 11 body-condition indices in a giant snake species that exhibits positive allometry
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0180791
Authors Bryan Falk, Ray W. Snow, Robert N. Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Series Number
Index ID 70191321
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center

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