SREL Reprint #1151




Morphological Constraint on Egg Size:  A Challenge to Optimal Egg Size Theory? (Parental Investment/reproduction/turtles)

Justin D. Congdon and J. Whitfield Gibbons



Some freshwater turtles appear unable to produce eggs large enough to achieve the balance between size and number of eggs predicted by optimal egg size theory.  We present evidence that pelvic girdle structure constrains egg size and thus offspring size in females of smaller-bodied species (Chrysemys picta) and Deirochelys reticularia).  The constraint is demonstrated by the correspondence of slopes of the increase of the pelvic aperture and egg width with increasing body size.  This constraint appears to be relaxed in a larger-bodies species (Pseudemys scripta), in which the increase in pelvic aperture relative to body size is greater than the increase in egg width.  This type of structural constraint on a reproductive trait should not occur unless there is strong selection on pelvic architecture for other functions, such as locomotion, support, and limb retraction, that prevent expansion of the pelvic aperture.  Although other explanations may exist for other groups of organisms that appear to vary egg size, the large variation in egg size associated with body size in some species of turtles can be reconciled with optimal egg size theory only if a pelvic constraint model is accepted.


SREL Reprint #1151

Congdon, J.D. and J.W. Gibbons. 1987. Morphological constraint on egg size: a challenge to optimal egg size theory? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 84:4125-4147.

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