ESR 23:63-71 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00565

Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii nesting abundance in Texas, USA: a novel approach using genetics to improve population census

Amy Frey1,*, Peter H. Dutton1, Donna J. Shaver2, Jennifer Shelby Walker2, Cynthia Rubio

1Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 8901 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, California 92037, USA
2Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery, Padre Island National Seashore, National Park Service, PO Box 181300, Corpus Christi, Texas 78480-1300, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Accurate estimates of the annual numbers of nesting females are critical for assessing sea turtle populations. Nesting by Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii turtles has significantly increased at Padre Island National Seashore and nearby beaches in Texas, USA. Four nests were observed in Texas during 1995 and a record of 209 in 2012. However, it is unclear how many clutches are laid by the same females. We used a genetic approach to infer the number of individual nesters from genotypes determined from dead embryos and hatchlings sampled from clutches. Mitochondrial DNA sequencing was combined with nuclear DNA analysis at 10 microsatellite loci to match genotypes for nesters and offspring of unknown parentage in over 50% of the unassigned nests. Our results indicate that traditional methods, based on observed tagged turtles, have underestimated the number of Kemp’s ridleys nesting in Texas. We demonstrate how genetic approaches can be incorporated into population assessments when direct census of adult animals is not feasible. This approach also provides a basis to apply capture-mark-recapture techniques to assess the impact of events, such as the recent oil spill, on the population via sampling of nests to identify and track individual nesters over time.


KEY WORDS: Kemp’s ridley · Sea turtle · Abundance · Nesting beach · Genotypes


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Cite this article as: Frey A, Dutton PH, Shaver DJ, Walker JS, Rubio C (2014) Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii nesting abundance in Texas, USA: a novel approach using genetics to improve population census. Endang Species Res 23:63-71. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00565

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