Marine Biology

, 166:97 | Cite as

Genetic determination of tag loss dynamics in nesting loggerhead turtles: a new chapter in “the tag loss problem”

  • Joseph B. PfallerEmail author
  • Kristina L. Williams
  • Michael G. Frick
  • Brian M. Shamblin
  • Campbell J. Nairn
  • Marc Girondot
Original Paper


Capture–mark–recapture studies that fail to account for the frequency and dynamics of marker loss risk generating biased demographic estimates. In this study, we used permanent multilocus genotypes (i.e., “genetic tags”) and a new enhanced tag loss model to quantify the tag loss dynamics for both passive integrated transponder (PIT) and Inconel metal tags applied to loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) nesting on Wassaw Island, GA USA. Our results indicate that tag loss is most likely to occur within the nesting season in which tags were applied and is maximal just after tagging (maximum likelihood estimates): 0.00098 PIT tags day−1 and 0.007 Inconel tags day−1. After that, PIT tag loss was negligible and Inconel tag loss remained low but constant at 0.00028 tags day−1, such that after 5 years, the probability of losing one PIT tag was 0.06 and losing at least one Inconel tag was 0.46. The use of genetic tags in this study makes these the first truly accurate estimates of PIT and Inconel tag loss for marine turtles, and the new model of tag loss described herein represents an important advancement in the analytical methods used to estimate and compare tag loss dynamics.



This work would not have been possible without the assistants, volunteers and supporters of the Caretta Research Project, as well as the enthusiastic support of the many beach monitoring projects along the Atlantic coast of the United States north of Florida. We gratefully acknowledge the personnel representing the authors’ institutions and agencies as well as literally hundreds of surveyors representing the NRU beach monitoring projects who have collected samples for this study over the years. We also acknowledge dozens of undergraduate student workers who performed DNA extractions and Billy Kim for genotyping. We also appreciate the support provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Savannah Coastal Refuges, and Wassaw Island LLC.


The authors have no sources of funding to report for this specific project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and animal rights statement

All elements of this research followed ethical standards that were approved and permitted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.

Supplementary material

227_2019_3545_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (21 kb)
Online Resource 1 Detailed summary of tag loss estimates in marine turtles (XLSX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Caretta Research ProjectSavannahUSA
  2. 2.Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research and Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.Laboratoire Écologie, Systématique, Évolution, Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueUniversité Paris-Sud, AgroParisTech, Université Paris SaclayOrsayFrance

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