Leatherback turtles are capital breeders: Morphometric and physiological evidence from longitudinal monitoring

Virginie Plot, Thomas Jenkins, Jean Patrice Robin, Sabrina Fossette, Jean Yves Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Organisms compensate for reproduction costs through two major strategies: capital breeders store body reserves before reproduction and do not feed during the breeding season, whereas income breeders adjust their food intake depending on concurrent reproductive needs. Sea turtles are commonly considered capital breeders. Yet recent biometric and behavioral studies have suggested that sea turtles may in fact feed during reproduction. We tested this hypothesis in the leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea, nesting in French Guiana. Our study is based on the innovative use of longitudinal monitoring for morphological (body size, body mass, and body condition) and physiological (plasma glucose, triacylglycerides, urea, calcium, and hematocrit) measurements in 35 females throughout the 2006 nesting season. During their 71d nesting period, leatherbacks lost a mean (SE) of 46.8 2.6 kg (i.e., ~11% of their initial body mass of 409.0 8.9 kg). Simultaneously, a significant decrease in plasma concentrations of glucose, triacylglycerides, and urea was observed throughout the nesting season, following typical patterns reported in other longfasting animals that rely on lipid body stores. At the end of the nesting season, the interindividual variability in plasma concentrations was very low, which may characterize some minimum thresholds associated with the end of reproduction. We also identified a minimum necessary threshold for female body condition at the onset of reproduction; the body condition of any females beginning the nesting period below this threshold decreased dramatically. This study makes a compelling case that, in French Guiana, gravid leatherback females are anorexic during the nesting season (i.e., leatherback turtles are capital breeders). We further highlight the mechanisms that prevent this multiparous reptile from jeopardizing its own body condition while not feeding during reproduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-397
Number of pages13
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number4
Early online date4 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


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