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ESR 1:41-48 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/esr001041

Size, growth, and reproductive output of adult female leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea

Edwin R. Price1, 6,*, Bryan P. Wallace2, Richard D. Reina3, James R. Spotila2, Frank V. Paladino1, Rotney Piedra4, Elizabeth Vélez5

1Department of Biology, Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805, USA
2Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA
3School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia
4Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, Apartado 10104-1000 San José, Costa Rica
5Proyecto de Conservación en Tortugas Marinas-Tortuga Baula y The Leatherback Trust, Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Playa Grande, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
6Present address: Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA

ABSTRACT: Leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea exhibit superlative measures of size, growth, and fecundity among reptiles, yet factors affecting these variables remain poorly studied. We investigated the relationships between the leatherback’s variable remigration interval and measures of growth and fecundity by analyzing 8 years of data from a population of females nesting at Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Costa Rica. We hypothesized that variation in the remigration interval was due to tradeoffs with seasonal fecundity (clutch size and estimated clutch frequency) or growth rate over the interval. Nesting females grew an average of 0.2 cm yr–1 (range: –1.5 to 2 cm yr–1) in standard curved carapace length and 0.2 cm yr–1 (range: –1.6 to 1.7 cm yr–1) in curved carapace width, with smaller turtles growing significantly faster than larger ones. The small adult growth rates observed indicate that size differences within and between populations are not good indicators of age. Major differences in body size among turtles within a population appear to be set during the juvenile and subadult portions of female leatherbacks’ lives. Remigration interval did not correlate with either growth or measured indices of seasonal fecundity. Because delayed remigration did not result in enhanced growth or measured indices of reproduction, variability of environmental conditions might instead determine the length of the remigration interval and thus the overall reproductive output during a female’s lifetime.

KEY WORDS: Leatherback · Remigration interval · Life history traits · Fecundity · Sea turtle · Clutch size · Costa Rica

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