Maturity of a giant: age and size reaction norm for sexual maturity for Atlantic leatherback turtles

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Leatherback marine turtles are the largest extant turtles with some individuals measuring up to 2 m in carapace length. In addition, this species remains in oceanic habitat during much its life, making it difficult to investigate its ontogeny from hatchling to adult stage. Furthermore, distinct chondro-osseous (cartilage and bone) tissue morphology has led to speculation that sexual maturity may be reached as early as 3 years while others have estimated a minimum of 25 years to reach adulthood. Using a combination of reanalysis of the growth trajectories of juveniles maintained in captivity, and the age–size relationship of individuals in the field, we demonstrate and quantify the indeterminate growth of this species. Using comparisons of female size distribution on nesting beaches and stranded or captured-at-sea size distributions adjusted with a new asymmetric sigmoid function, we were able to model the size reaction norm for female sexual maturity. Combining these two models, we show that some females may reach maturity at 14 years in natural conditions, while others will take 50 years or more. Sexual maturity may even be reached at 5 years when individuals experience exceptionally good environmental conditions. This extreme plasticity in the age of sexual maturity has been demonstrated in loggerhead turtles in natural conditions and in green turtles in captivity. It may be a general life-history feature of marine turtles.






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Girondot, M, B Mourrain, D Chevallier and MH Godfrey (2021). Maturity of a giant: age and size reaction norm for sexual maturity for Atlantic leatherback turtles. Marine Ecology. 10.1111/maec.12631 Retrieved from

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