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ESR 31:103-117 (2016)  -  DOI:

Trends and variability in demographic indicators of a recovering population of green sea turtles Chelonia mydas

Susan E. Piacenza1,4,*, George H. Balazs2, Stacy K. Hargrove3, Paul M. Richards3, Selina S. Heppell

1Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97330, USA
2NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA
3NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, FL 33149, USA
4Present address: Department of Biology, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA 90041, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Multiple populations of green sea turtles Chelonia mydas show signs of population recovery. In Hawaii (USA), green turtles have increased 5.4% yr-1 since 1973, but fluctuations in census counts of nesting females make recovery diagnosis difficult. Evaluating demographic rates for temporal change and in relation to population density, and indicators of recruitment to sea turtle nesting populations, will ultimately improve population assessments. Using linear mixed and multistate open robust design models, we estimated the demographic indicators (DIs) of size at maturity, nester carapace length, breeding probability, and adult female survival using 3677 tagged nesting green turtles from 1973 to 2010 in Hawaii. To evaluate changes with density, we correlated the DIs with nesting female counts. We estimated size at maturity, assuming that newly tagged nesters are new recruits and that first-time nesters have statistically significant smaller carapace length than recaptures, but the difference in size was only ~0.5 cm. Mean nester carapace length (range: 89.21-91.69 cm) and breeding probability (range: 0.0766-0.444 yr-1) showed directional changes over time, suggesting shifts in age structure that could be due to recruitment. The top-ranked model predicted constant female survival over time (S = 0.929 yr-1, 95% CI: 0.924-0.933, model likelihood = 1.00). Counter to our hypothesis based on density-dependence, breeding probability increases with increasing nester abundance. This work contributes to a growing set of studies evaluating sea turtle demography for temporal variability and is the first for Hawaiian green turtles. Our study demonstrates that some easily monitored demographic variables may serve as indicators of population change.

KEY WORDS: Breeding probability · Density dependence · Detection probability · Hawaii · Population recovery · Survival · Size at maturity

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Cite this article as: Piacenza SE, Balazs GH, Hargrove SK, Richards PM, Heppell SS (2016) Trends and variability in demographic indicators of a recovering population of green sea turtles Chelonia mydas. Endang Species Res 31:103-117.

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