Turtle carapace anomalies: The roles of genetic diversity and environment

Guillermo Velo-Antón, Carlos G. Becker, Adolfo Cordero-Rivera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Background: Phenotypic anomalies are common in wild populations and multiple genetic, biotic and abiotic factors might contribute to their formation. Turtles are excellent models for the study of developmental instability because anomalies are easily detected in the form of malformations, additions, or reductions in the number of scutes or scales. Methodology/Principal Findings: In this study, we integrated field observations, manipulative experiments, and climatic and genetic approaches to investigate the origin of carapace scute anomalies across Iberian populations of the European pond turtle, Emys orbicularis. The proportion of anomalous individuals varied from 3% to 69% in local populations, with increasing frequency of anomalies in northern regions. We found no significant effect of climatic and soil moisture, or climatic temperature on the occurrence of anomalies. However, lower genetic diversity and inbreeding were good predictors of the prevalence of scute anomalies among populations. Both decreasing genetic diversity and increasing proportion of anomalous individuals in northern parts of the Iberian distribution may be linked to recolonization events from the Southern Pleistocene refugium. Conclusions/Significance: Overall, our results suggest that developmental instability in turtle carapace formation might be caused, at least in part, by genetic factors, although the influence of environmental factors affecting the developmental stability of turtle carapace cannot be ruled out. Further studies of the effects of environmental factors, pollutants and heritability of anomalies would be useful to better understand the complex origin of anomalies in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18714
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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