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Climate change implications for the nest site selection process and subsequent hatching success of a green turtle population

Abstract

Sandy beach habitat where sea turtles nest will be affected by multiple climate change impacts. Before these impacts occur, knowledge of how nest site selection and hatching success vary with beach microhabitats is needed to inform managers on how to protect suitable habitats and prepare for scientifically valid mitigation measures at beaches around the world. At a highly successful green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookery at Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico, we measured microhabitat characteristics along the beach crawl (rejected sites) and related nest site conditions (selected sites) to subsequent hatching success rates for 64 nesting events. To our knowledge, this is the first study to report environmental data along the nesting crawl for a green turtle population and the first to use natural breaks in the data to describe their preferred habitat ranges. Our results indicate that turtles were likely using a combination of cues to find nest sites, mainly higher elevations and lower sand surface temperatures (Kruskal-Wallis test, H = 19.84, p < 0.001; H = 10.78, p < 0.001). Hatching success was significantly and negatively correlated to sand temperature at cloaca depth (Spearman’s ρ = −0.27, p = 0.04). Indeed, the preferred range for cloaca sand temperatures at the nest site (26.3–27.5 °C) had significantly higher hatching success rates compared to the highest temperature range (Tukey HSD = 0.47, p = 0.05). Sand temperatures at various depths were intercorrelated, and surface and cloaca depth sand temperatures were correlated to air temperature (ρ = 0.70, p = 0.00; ρ = 0.26, p = 0.04). Therefore, rising air temperatures could alter sand temperature cues for suitable nest sites, preferred nest site ranges, and produce uneven sex ratios or lethal incubating temperatures. Elevation cues and preferred ranges (1.4–2.5 m) may also be affected by sea level rise, risking inundation of nests.

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Acknowledgments

The government permit to allow data collection for this study was under the Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA). Peter Palmiotto, Department Chair of the Conservation Biology Program, Antioch University New England, was the committee chair for the thesis that was the basis of the paper. Many thanks go to Alma Boada, Volunteer Coordinator, and Mariano Suárez Calleros from CEA for their help, as well as Veronica Pollen from The Science Exchange for helping with field data collection during night patrols. Much appreciation to John Weeks at SDSU and Jeff Seminoff at Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, with assistance on the analysis. Elizabeth Giffen, Communications Manager, and Sue Koscinski, Grants Coordinator at The Science Exchange, helped with editing.

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Correspondence to Katherine Comer Santos.

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Santos, K.C., Livesey, M., Fish, M. et al. Climate change implications for the nest site selection process and subsequent hatching success of a green turtle population. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 22, 121–135 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-015-9668-6

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Green sea turtles
  • Nest site selection
  • Hatching success
  • Management strategies