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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Identifying impactful sea turtle conservation strategies: a mismatch between most influential and most readily manageable life-stages

Shane A. Richards*, Christopher Cvitanovic, Michael Dunlop, Sabrina Fossette, Linda Thomas, Anton D. Tucker, E. Ingrid van Putten, Andrea U. Whiting, Scott D. Whiting, Alistair J. Hobday

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles worldwide face a range of threats including: sea level rise and warming associated with climate change, predation by invasive species, plastic and light pollution, coastal development, and human interference. Conservation managers have a long history of aiding sea turtle populations, from protecting nests to head-starting hatchlings. Due to these challenges faced by turtles, there is a constant focus on assessing the likely success of proposed conservation interventions to help inform decision-making processes. We develop an age-based, spatially implicit population model for the north-west shelf stock of Australia’s endemic flatback turtle Natator depressus that estimates the long-term outcomes of a range of on-shore and off-shore conservation interventions. Analysis of the model shows that young adults contribute most to population growth (i.e. have highest expected future reproductive success), however, this is often the most difficult life-stage to manipulate in the field. Observable outcomes of interventions are often delayed for many years, especially for on-shore activities (e.g. protecting eggs and hatchlings), due to late age to maturity. The potential impact of warming-induced female bias on population dynamics was also investigated. Although such bias increases population growth rates in the short-term, negative effects of the bias (e.g. reduced female mating success) and negative environmental effects (e.g. reduced survival rates, habitat loss) can lead to sustained declines. Population models can rapidly assess climate change and conservation impacts on turtle dynamics and can guide monitoring efforts for real-world application.