Macroecological patterns of sexual size dimorphism in turtles of the world

Journal of Evolutionary Biology
By: , and 



Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) is a well-documented phenomenon in both plants and animals; however, the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that drive and maintain SSD patterns across geographic space at regional and global scales are understudied, especially for reptiles. Our goal was to examine geographic variation of turtle SSD and to explore ecological and environmental correlates using phylogenetic comparative methods. We use published body size data on 135 species from nine turtle families to examine how geographic patterns and the evolution of SSD are influenced by habitat specialization, climate (annual mean temperature and annual precipitation) and climate variability, latitude, or a combination of these predictor variables. We found that geographic variation, magnitude and direction of turtle SSD are best explained by habitat association, annual temperature variance and annual precipitation. Use of semi-aquatic and terrestrial habitats was associated with male-biased SSD, whereas use of aquatic habitat was associated with female-biased SSD. Our results also suggest that greater temperature variability is associated with female-biased SSD. In contrast, wetter climates are associated with male-biased SSD compared with arid climates that are associated with female-biased SSD. We also show support for a global latitudinal trend in SSD, with females being larger than males towards the poles, especially in the families Emydidae and Geoemydidae. Estimates of phylogenetic signal for both SSD and habitat type indicate that closely related species occupy similar habitats and exhibit similar direction and magnitude of SSD. These global patterns of SSD may arise from sex-specific reproductive behaviour, fecundity and sex-specific responses to environmental factors that differ among habitats and vary systematically across latitude. Thus, this study adds to our current understanding that while SSD can vary dramatically across and within turtle species under phylogenetic constraints, it may be driven, maintained and exaggerated by habitat type, climate and geographic location.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Macroecological patterns of sexual size dimorphism in turtles of the world
Series title Journal of Evolutionary Biology
DOI 10.1111/jeb.13223
Volume 31
Issue 3
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 336
Last page 345
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