Environmental Causation of Turtle Scute Anomalies in ovo and in silico

Roland Zimm, Blair P. Bentley, Jeanette Wyneken, Jacqueline E. Moustakas-Verho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The turtle shell is often described as an evolutionary novelty that facilitated the radiation of the clade Testudines. The scutes, or keratinous plates, of the turtle shell are hypothesized to be patterned by reaction-diffusion dynamics, and this property of their development provides explanatory power to mechanisms of anomalous variation. A mathematical model of scute development predicts that anomalous variation in the phylogenetically stable pattern of scutes is achieved by environmental influence on the developmental program. We test this prediction with data on patterns of scute variation from natural nests and controlled incubation of sea turtle eggs in Florida and Western Australia. We find that high temperatures are sufficient to produce anomalous patterns in turtle scutes, and that this correlation is even stronger when conditions are dry. Furthermore, we find that the patterns of variation are not random; greater anomalous variation is found in the midline vertebral scutes and during a critical period of turtle development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1303-1311
Number of pages9
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
EventSymposium on Physical and Genetic Mechanisms for Evolutionary Novelty at the Annual Meeting of the Society-for-Integrative-and-Comparative-Biology - New Orleans, Lao People's Democratic Republic
Duration: 4 Jan 20178 Jan 2017


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