Rate of egg maturation in marine turtles exhibits ‘universal temperature dependence’

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Summary1. The metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) predicts that, after correcting for body mass variation among organisms, the rates of most biological processes will vary as a universal function of temperature. However, empirical support for ‘universal temperature dependence’ (UTD) is currently equivocal and based on studies of a limited number of traits.2. In many ectothermic animals, the rate at which females produce mature eggs is temperature dependent and may be an important factor in determining the costs of reproduction.3. We tested whether the rate of egg maturation in marine turtles varies with environmental temperature as predicted by MTE, using the time separating successive clutches of individual females to estimate the rate at which eggs are formed. We also assessed the phenotypic contribution to this rate, by using radio telemetry to make repeated measurements of interclutch intervals for individual green turtles (Chelonia mydas).4. Rates of egg maturation increased with seasonally increasing water temperatures in radio-tracked green turtles, but were not repeatable for individual females, and did not vary according to maternal body size or reproductive investment (number and size of eggs produced).5. Using a collated data set from several different populations and species of marine turtles, we then show that a single relationship with water temperature explains most of the variation in egg maturation rates, with a slope that is statistically indistinguishable from the UTD predicted by MTE. However, several alternative statistical models also described the relationship between temperature and egg maturation rates equally parsimoniously.6. Our results offer novel support for the MTE's predicted UTD of biological rates, although the underlying mechanisms require further study. The strong temperature dependence of egg maturation combined with the apparently weak phenotypic contribution to this rate has interesting behavioural implications in ectothermic animals. We suggest that maternal thermoregulatory behaviour in marine turtles, and many other reptiles, is consistent with a strategy of adaptively increasing body temperatures to accelerate egg maturation.

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