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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 701:119-132 (2022)  -  DOI:

Direct and indirect pathways for environmental drivers of hatching success in the loggerhead sea turtle

Mattie J. Whitesell1, Elizabeth A. Hunter2, David C. Rostal1, John M. Carroll1,*

1Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA 30460, USA
2US Geological Survey, Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Nest site selection has consequences for hatching success by mediating the temperature and moisture conditions that eggs experience during the incubation period. Understanding the potentially complex pathways by which nest placement influences these abiotic mediators, and therefore hatching success, is important for predicting which nests will be successful and which may require management action. We studied the effects of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nest site selection on hatching success by linking nest placement characteristics to hatching success through a structural equation model. We monitored 170 nests on Ossabaw Island, Georgia, during the summers of 2017 and 2018 and tracked nest conditions throughout the incubation period. Temperature had a complex effect on hatching success—nests had higher hatching rates if they were exposed to higher mean temperatures but also if they experienced both extremely high (>34°C) and extremely low (<26.5°C) temperatures, suggesting that temperature variability plays a role in determining nest outcomes beyond the mean temperature. Likewise, hatching success declined with a higher incidence of nests being inundated by tides. We found that nests placed at the highest elevations had the highest hatching success rates, likely because those nests had a much lower chance of being washed over by high tides and had higher mean temperatures. Nests were also more successful when placed in greater amounts of vegetation, again because vegetated nests were generally warmer and were associated with fewer washover events. These results shed light on the mechanisms behind selection for certain nest site characteristics and can guide the relocation of nests as a conservation action.

KEY WORDS: Loggerhead sea turtle · Hatching success · Environmental drivers · Structural equation modeling

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Cite this article as: Whitesell MJ, Hunter EA, Rostal DC, Carroll JM (2022) Direct and indirect pathways for environmental drivers of hatching success in the loggerhead sea turtle. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 701:119-132.

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