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ESR 45:127-145 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01123

Hawksbill sea turtle life-stage durations, somatic growth patterns, and age at maturation

Larisa Avens1,*, Matthew D. Ramirez2, Lisa R. Goshe1, Jamie M. Clark1,3, Anne B. Meylan4, Wendy Teas5, Donna J. Shaver6, Matthew H. Godfrey7,8,9, Lyndsey Howell10

1National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Beaufort Laboratory, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
2University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA
3Riverside Technology, Inc., Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
4Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
5National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, FL 33149, USA
6National Park Service, Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, TX 78418, USA
7North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
8Duke Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
9Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA
10National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory, Pascagoula, MS 39567, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles exhibit complex life histories, encompassing intermittent use of multiple spatially separated habitats throughout long lifespans. This broad scope presents challenges for collecting comprehensive biological and ecological data, yet absence of such information complicates evaluation of management strategies for populations at risk of extinction. Hawksbill sea turtles Eretmochelys imbricata are endangered worldwide, primarily due to long-term, directed harvest. However, available information regarding life stage durations, somatic growth patterns, and maturation attributes to enhance understanding of anthropogenic impacts and recovery potential remains constrained. To address these data gaps in the western North Atlantic, we conducted skeletochronological analysis for hawksbills stranded along US coastlines to generate straight-line carapace length (SCL)-at-age and somatic growth data. Generalized additive mixed models and bootstrapped von Bertalanffy growth curves were used to characterize age at maturation and covariate influence on somatic growth. For a subset of turtles, annual bone growth increment-specific stable isotope and trace element analyses were incorporated to evaluate habitat use relative to age. Integration of these data sources indicated that juveniles transitioned from oceanic to neritic habitat at 1-3 yr old and mean SCLs of 23-24 cm (range 15.7-35.0 cm). Initial ages at maturation for this population at minimum nesting female SCLs were estimated at 15-25 yr. Somatic growth varied significantly relative to size, age, and stranding location, while no association with sex or calendar year was observed. Our results demonstrate the utility of these complementary analytical approaches for generating baseline data fundamental to characterizing hawksbill sea turtle population attributes.


KEY WORDS: Eretmochelys imbricata · Nitrogen isotope · Carbon isotope · Strontium · Barium · Atlantic Ocean · Gulf of Mexico


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Cite this article as: Avens L, Ramirez MD, Goshe LR, Clark JM and others (2021) Hawksbill sea turtle life-stage durations, somatic growth patterns, and age at maturation. Endang Species Res 45:127-145. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01123

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