Ontogenetic Diet Shifts and Digestive Constraints in the Omnivorous Freshwater Turtle
Many reptiles undergo an ontogenetic diet shift from carnivory to herbivory.
In this study, we used the yellow-bellied slider turtle, Trachemys scripta, as a model to evaluate whether juvenile turtles are carnivorous because physiological constraints preclude herbivory. We conducted feeding trials in which we fed juvenile and adult turtles a duckweed plant, Lemna valdiviana, or a freshwater grass shrimp, Palaemontes paludosus, for 5 wk. During the trials, we measured mass-specific intake, digestibility, and digestible intake for both size classes, as well as juvenile growth. At the end of the trials, we measured the nutrient composition of the juvenile turtles. Juveniles fed shrimp grew 3.2 times faster than those fed duckweed and had equivalent lipid stores. Digestive processing in juveniles was extremely efficient on the shrimp diet, with higher mass-specific intakes than adults and very high digestibilities (97%). Juveniles digested duckweed as well as adults did; however, their intake of this diet was limited, possibly by the time required for fermentation. We concluded that although juveniles can process plant material, an animal diet allows for greater juvenile growth, which in turtles is linked to higher survivorship and increased future reproductive success.