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Oecologia

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 37–47 | Cite as

Maternal investment in reproduction and its consequences in leatherback turtles

  • Bryan P. Wallace
  • Paul R. Sotherland
  • Pilar Santidrian Tomillo
  • Richard D. Reina
  • James R. Spotila
  • Frank V. Paladino
Ecophysiology

Abstract

Maternal investment in reproduction by oviparous non-avian reptiles is usually limited to pre-ovipositional allocations to the number and size of eggs and clutches, thus making these species good subjects for testing hypotheses of reproductive optimality models. Because leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) stand out among oviparous amniotes by having the highest clutch frequency and producing the largest mass of eggs per reproductive season, we quantified maternal investment of 146 female leatherbacks over four nesting seasons (2001–2004) and found high inter- and intra-female variation in several reproductive characteristics. Estimated clutch frequency [coefficient of variation (CV) = 31%] and clutch size (CV = 26%) varied more among females than did egg mass (CV = 9%) and hatchling mass (CV = 7%). Moreover, clutch size had an approximately threefold higher effect on clutch mass than did egg mass. These results generally support predictions of reproductive optimality models in which species that lay several, large clutches per reproductive season should exhibit low variation in egg size and instead maximize egg number (clutch frequency and/or size). The number of hatchlings emerging per nest was positively correlated with clutch size, but fraction of eggs in a clutch yielding hatchlings (emergence success) was not correlated with clutch size and varied highly among females. In addition, seasonal fecundity and seasonal hatchling production increased with the frequency and the size of clutches (in order of effect size). Our results demonstrate that female leatherbacks exhibit high phenotypic variation in reproductive traits, possibly in response to environmental variability and/or resulting from genotypic variability within the population. Furthermore, high seasonal and lifetime fecundity of leatherbacks probably reflect compensation for high and unpredictable mortality during early life history stages in this species.

Keywords

Reproductive output Optimal egg size theory Clutch size Egg size Neonate size 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank the field biologists, especially V. Saba, E. Price, V. Izzo, and N. Sill, and Earthwatch volunteers, and the Park Rangers and Administration for their collective conservation effort at PNMB and specifically for assistance with data collection for this project. We are grateful to J. Moore and M. Sims for statistical assistance. Financial support was provided by Earthwatch Institute, the Betz Chair of Environmental Science, Drexel University, the Schrey Chair of Biology, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, a Faculty Development Grant from Kalamazoo College, and the Leatherback Trust. All procedures conformed to conditions of Costa Rican Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía permits and were conducted with appropriate Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bryan P. Wallace
    • 1
  • Paul R. Sotherland
    • 2
  • Pilar Santidrian Tomillo
    • 3
  • Richard D. Reina
    • 4
  • James R. Spotila
    • 3
  • Frank V. Paladino
    • 5
  1. 1.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke University Center for Marine ConservationBeaufortUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyKalamazoo CollegeKalamazooUSA
  3. 3.Department of Bioscience and BiotechnologyDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Department of BiologyIndiana–Purdue UniversityFt. WayneUSA

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