Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 194–208 | Cite as

Phylogenetic Patterns of Sexual Size Dimorphism in Turtles and Their Implications for Rensch’s Rule

  • Claudia P. Ceballos
  • Dean C. Adams
  • John B. Iverson
  • Nicole Valenzuela
Research Article


Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) is widespread in nature and may result from selection operating differentially on males and females. Rensch’s rule, the increase of SSD with body size in male-biased-SSD species (or decrease in female-biased-SSD species), is documented in invertebrates and vertebrates. In turtles, evidence for Rensch’s rule is inconclusive and thus the forces underlying body size evolution remain obscure. Using a phylogenetic approach on 138 turtle species from 9 families, we found that turtles overall and three families follow Rensch’s rule, five families display isometry of SSD with body size, while Podocnemididae potentially follows a pattern opposite to Rensch’s rule. Furthermore, male size evolves at faster rates than female size. Female-biased-SSD appears ancestral in turtles while male-biased-SSD evolved in every polytypic family at least once. Body size follows an Ornstein–Uhlenbeck evolutionary model in both sexes and SSD types, ruling out drift as a driving process. We explored whether habitat type or sex determination might be general drivers of turtle body size evolution using a phylogenetic context. We found that males are proportionally larger in terrestrial habitats and smaller in more aquatic habitats, while the sex-determining mechanism had no influence on body size evolution. Together, our data indicate that Rensch’s rule is not ubiquitous across vertebrates, but rather is prevalent in some lineages and not driven by a single force. Instead, our findings are consistent with the hypotheses that fecundity-selection might operate on females and ecological-selection on males; and that SSD and sex-determining mechanism evolve independently in these long-lived vertebrates.


Sexual selection Sexual size dimorphism Evolution Fecundity selection Ecological selection Adaptation Comparative method Reptiles Turtles 



We thank the undergraduate students from the Iowa Turtle Army at N.V. lab who helped during the literature review and data compilation. Funding was provided from grants: P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship to C.C., National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant DEB-0808047 to N.V. and C.C., NSF IOS 0743284 and associated RET and REU supplements to N.V., and support to C.C. from the Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Department at Iowa State University. The Joseph Moore Museum of Natural History supported the research of JBI. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia P. Ceballos
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dean C. Adams
    • 2
  • John B. Iverson
    • 3
  • Nicole Valenzuela
    • 2
  1. 1.Escuela de Medicina Veterinaria, Facultad de Ciencias AgrariasUniversidad de AntioquiaMedellínColombia
  2. 2.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal BiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyEarlham CollegeRichmondUSA

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