Variation in life-history characteristics among populations of North American wood turtles: a view from the north


  • Editor: Tim Halliday

Jacqueline D. Litzgus, Department of Biology, Laurentian University, Sudbury, ON, Canada P3E 2C6. Tel: 705 675 1151, ext. 2314; Fax: 705 675 4859


Life-history traits such as age at maturity, body size and clutch size tend to vary across a species' distribution. The purpose of our study was to describe the demography of a newly discovered population of North American wood turtles Glyptemys insculpta at the species' northern range limit, and to compare our findings to those of other studies to test hypotheses about adaptive life-history variation. Turtles were hand-captured from May to October 2005 and 2006 along a 4.5 km stretch of river located in the Sudbury District, ON, Canada (46°N). Fifty-five captured individuals provided a population density estimate of 1.3 turtles/100 m of river. Juveniles comprised 35% of wood turtles captured, and growth ring counts (i.e. age estimates) indicated recruitment in each of the past 11 years. Among populations, we found a nonlinear pattern in body size variation with the largest turtles in the north, smallest turtles in the centre of the range, and intermediate-sized turtles in the south. This nonlinear pattern in body size was reflected in clutch size variation. Selective pressures to overcome years of low recruitment may have resulted in larger body sizes and hence large clutch sizes at northern latitudes while conspecifics at southern latitudes can achieve larger body sizes because they live in a more productive environment. Population density decreased with latitude, likely as a result of a gradient in habitat productivity.