Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
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Davenport, John and Plot, Virginie and Georges, Jean-Yves and Doyle, Thomas K. and James, Michael C.
Journal of Experimental Biology
Pleated turtle escapes the box - shape changes in Dermochelys coriacea
WOS: 23 ()
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Typical chelonians have a rigid carapace and plastron that form a box-like structure that constrains several aspects of their physiology and ecology. The leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, has a flexible bony carapace strengthened by seven longitudinal ridges, whereas the plastron is reduced to an elliptical outer bony structure, so that the ventrum has no bony support. Measurements of the shell were made on adult female leatherbacks studied on the feeding grounds of waters off Nova Scotia (NS) and on breeding beaches of French Guiana (FG) to examine whether foraging and/or breeding turtles alter carapace size and/or shape. NS turtles exhibited greater mass and girth for a given curved carapace length (CCL) than FG turtles. Girth: CCL ratios rose during the feeding season, indicating increased girth. Measurements were made of the direct (straight) and surface (curved) distances between the medial longitudinal ridge and first right-hand longitudinal ridge (at 50% CCL). In NS turtles, the ratio of straight to curved inter-ridge distances was significantly higher than in FG turtles, indicating distension of the upper surfaces of the NS turtles between the ridges. FG females laid 11 clutches in the breeding season; although CCL and curved carapace width remained stable, girth declined between each nesting episode, indicating loss of mass. Straight to curved inter-ridge distance ratios did not change significantly during the breeding season, indicating loss of dorsal blubber before the onset of breeding. The results demonstrate substantial alterations in size and shape of female D. coriacea over periods of weeks to months in response to alterations in nutritional and reproductive status.
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