Emerging From The Rib: Resolving The Turtle Controversies

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Journal Of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular And Developmental Evolution


Two of the major controversies in the present study of turtle shell development involve the mechanism by which the carapacial ridge initiates shell formation and the mechanism by which each rib forms the costal bones adjacent to it. This paper claims that both sides of each debate might be correct—but within the species examined. Mechanism is more properly “mechanisms,” and there is more than one single way to initiate carapace formation and to form the costal bones. In the initiation of the shell, the rib precursors may be kept dorsal by either “axial displacement” (in the hard-shell turtles) or “axial arrest” (in the soft-shell turtle Pelodiscus), or by a combination of these. The former process would deflect the rib into the dorsal dermis and allow it to continue its growth there, while the latter process would truncate rib growth. In both instances, though, the result is to keep the ribs from extending into the ventral body wall. Our recent work has shown that the properties of the carapacial ridge, a key evolutionary innovation of turtles, differ greatly between these two groups. Similarly, the mechanism of costal bone formation may differ between soft-shell and hard-shell turtles, in that the hard-shell species may have both periosteal flattening as well as dermal bone induction, while the soft-shelled turtles may have only the first of these processes.