Diet of Amazon river turtles (Podocnemididae): A review of the effects of body size, phylogeny, season and habitat

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Amazon rivers can be divided into three groups (black, white and clear waters) according to the origin of their sediment, dissolved nutrient content, and vegetation. White water rivers have high sediment loads and primary productivity, with abundant aquatic and terrestrial plant life. In contrast, black water rivers are acid and nutrient-poor, with infertile floodplains that support plant species exceptionally rich in secondary chemical defences against herbivory. In this study, we reviewed available information on the diet of Amazon sideneck river turtles (Family Podocnemididae). Our aim was to test the relationship between water type and diet of podocnemidids. We also took into account the effects of season, size, age, sex and phylogeny. Based on our review, turtles of this family are primarily herbivorous but opportunistic, consuming from 46 to 99% (percent volume) of vegetable matter depending on species, sex, season and location. There was no significant correlation between the maximum carapace size of a species and vegetable matter consumed. When the available information on diet, size and habitat was arranged on the podocnemidid phylogeny, no obvious evolutionary trend was evident. The physicochemical properties of the inhabited water type indirectly influence the average volume of total vegetable matter consumed. Species with no specialised stomach adaptations for herbivory consumed smaller amounts of hard to digest vegetable matter (i.e. leaves, shoots and stems). We propose that turtles with specialized digestive tracts may have an advantage in black water rivers where plant chemical defences are more common. Despite limitations of the published data our review highlights the overall pattern of diet in the Podocnemididae and flags areas where more studies are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-100
Number of pages9
Early online date14 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


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