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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01159

Effects of moisture during incubation on green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) development, morphology and performance

Bill L. Matthews, Christopher R. Gatto*, Richard D. Reina

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: While the effect of temperature on embryonic development in sea turtles has been well studied over recent years, our understanding of the effect of substrate moisture, another important environmental variable, is limited. High sand moisture decreases nest temperature through evaporative and direct cooling during rainfall, but its direct effect on hatchling development, morphology and performance is unclear. To address this knowledge gap, we incubated 40 green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) clutches in a beach hatchery under either high- (~8% v/v) or low- (~5% v/v) sand moisture concentrations for the duration of embryonic development. Half of the clutches had temperature sensors deployed to measure any effect of sand moisture on nest temperature. As hatchlings emerged, we measured body size and locomotory performance during the first 24 h, an important period of frenzied activity for sea turtles. We excavated clutches post-emergence to determine hatching success, emergence success and to determine the stage of embryonic death for unsuccessful eggs. High-moisture concentrations increased incubation duration, decreased nest temperature, and had marginal effects on hatchling morphology, but no effect on hatching success, stage of embryonic death, crawling speed or initial swimming performance. However, after 24 h of swimming, hatchlings from high-moisture clutches produced less mean swim thrust and spent less time powerstroking than hatchlings from low-moisture clutches, suggesting reduced swimming endurance and potentially impacting the ability of hatchlings to successfully disperse. The effect of moisture on nest temperature and hatchling endurance highlights the importance of considering rainfall patterns when predicting future impacts of climate change on sea turtle populations.