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Lasala J.A.,Georgia Southern University | Lasala J.A.,Florida Atlantic University | Harrison J.S.,Georgia Southern University | Williams K.L.,Caretta Research Project | Rostal D.C.,Georgia Southern University
Ecology and Evolution | Year: 2013

Characterization of a species mating systems is fundamental for understanding the natural history and evolution of that species. Polyandry can result in the multiple paternity of progeny arrays. The only previous study of the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in the USA showed that within the large peninsular Florida subpopulation, multiple paternity occurs in approximately 30% of clutches. Our study tested clutches from the smaller northern subpopulation for the presence of multiple paternal contributions. We examined mothers and up to 20 offspring from 19.5% of clutches laid across three nesting seasons (2008-2010) on the small nesting beach on Wassaw Island, Georgia, USA. We found that 75% of clutches sampled had multiple fathers with an average of 2.65 fathers per nest (1-7 fathers found). The average number of fathers per clutch varied among years and increased with female size. There was no relationship between number of fathers and hatching success. Finally, we found 195 individual paternal genotypes and determined that each male contributed to no more than a single clutch over the 3-year sampling period. Together these results suggest that the operational sex ratio is male-biased at this site. Our study uses microsatellites in conjunction with exclusion analysis of multiple paternity to establish the number of males contributing to a nesting population of loggerhead sea turtles. We suggest that the operational sex ratio is male biased at this site. © 2013 The Authors.

Pfaller J.B.,University of Florida | Pfaller J.B.,Caretta Research Project | Alfaro-Shigueto J.,ProDelphinus | Alfaro-Shigueto J.,University of Exeter | And 7 more authors.
Marine Biology | Year: 2014

Studies that incorporate information from habitat-specific ecological interactions (e.g., epibiotic associations) can reveal valuable insights into the cryptic habitat-use patterns and behavior of marine vertebrates. Sea turtles, like other large, highly mobile marine vertebrates, are inherently difficult to study, and such information can inform the implementation of conservation measures. The presence of epipelagic epibionts, such as the flotsam crab Planes major, on sea turtles strongly suggests that neritic turtles have recently occupied epipelagic habitats (upper 200 m in areas with >200 m depth) and that epipelagic turtles spend time at or near the surface. We quantified the effects of turtle species, turtle size, and habitat (neritic or epipelagic) on the frequency of epibiosis (F 0) by P. major on sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean. In neritic habitats, we found that loggerhead (F 0 = 27.6 %) and olive ridley turtles (F 0 = 26.2 %) host crabs frequently across a wide range of body sizes, and green turtles almost never host crabs (F 0 = 0.7 %). These results suggest that loggerheads and olive ridleys display variable/flexible epipelagic-neritic transitions, while green turtles tend to transition unidirectionally at small body sizes. In epipelagic habitats, we found that loggerheads host crabs (F 0 = 92.9 %) more frequently than olive ridleys (F 0 = 50 %) and green turtles (F 0 = 38.5 %). These results suggest that epipelagic loggerheads tend to spend more time at or near the surface than epipelagic olive ridleys and green turtles. Results of this study reveal new insights into habitat-use patterns and behavior of sea turtles and display how epibiont data can supplement data from more advanced technologies to gain a better understanding of the ecology of marine vertebrates during cryptic life stages. © 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Hawkes L.A.,University of Exeter | Hawkes L.A.,Bangor University | Witt M.J.,University of Exeter | Broderick A.C.,University of Exeter | And 10 more authors.
Diversity and Distributions | Year: 2011

Aim Although satellite tracking has yielded much information regarding the migrations and habitat use of threatened marine species, relatively little has been published about the environmental niche for loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta in north-west Atlantic waters. Location North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, USA. Methods We tracked 68 adult female turtles between 1998 and 2008, one of the largest sample sizes to date, for 372.2±210.4days (mean±SD). Results We identified two strategies: (1) 'seasonal' migrations between summer and winter coastal areas (n=47), although some turtles made oceanic excursions (n=4) and (2) occupation of more southerly 'year-round' ranges (n=18). Seasonal turtles occupied summer home ranges of 645.1km2 (median, n = 42; using α-hulls) predominantly north of 35° latitude and winter home ranges of 339.0km2 (n=24) in a relatively small area on the narrow shelf off North Carolina. We tracked some of these turtles through successive summer (n=8) and winter (n=3) seasons, showing inter-annual home range repeatability to within 14.5km of summer areas and 10.3km of winter areas. For year-round turtles, home ranges were 1889.9km2. Turtles should be tracked for at least 80days to reliably estimate the home range size in seasonal habitats. The equivalent minimum duration for 'year-round' turtles is more complex to derive. We define an environmental envelope of the distribution of North American loggerhead turtles: warm waters (between 18.2 and 29.2°C) on the coastal shelf (in depths of 3.0-89.0m). Main conclusions Our findings show that adult female loggerhead turtles show predictable, repeatable home range behaviour and do not generally leave waters of the USA, nor the continental shelf (<200m depth). These data offer insights for future marine management, particularly if they were combined with those from the other management units in the USA. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Vander Zanden H.B.,University of Florida | Vander Zanden H.B.,University of Utah | Pfaller J.B.,University of Florida | Pfaller J.B.,Caretta Research Project | And 9 more authors.
Marine Biology | Year: 2014

Diet items and habitat constitute some of the environmental resources that may be used differently by individuals within a population. Long-term fidelity by individuals to particular resources exemplifies individual specialization, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly recognized across a wide range of species. Less is understood about the consequences of such specialization. Here, we investigate the effects of differential foraging ground use on reproductive output in 183 loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) nesting at Wassaw Island, Georgia (31.89°N, 80.97°W), between 2004 and 2011 with resulting possible fitness effects. Stable isotope analysis was used to assign the adult female loggerheads to one of three foraging areas in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Our data indicate that foraging area preference influences the size, fecundity, and breeding periodicity of adult female loggerhead turtles. We also found that the proportion of turtles originating from each foraging area varied significantly among the years examined. The change in the number of nesting females across the years of the study was not a result of uniform change from all foraging areas. We develop a novel approach to assess differential contributions of various foraging aggregations to changes in abundance of a sea turtle nesting aggregation using stable isotopes. Our approach can provide an improved understanding of the influences on the causes of increasing or decreasing population trends and allow more effective monitoring for these threatened species and other highly migratory species. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Leblanc A.M.,Georgia Southern University | Drake K.K.,Georgia Southern University | Williams K.L.,Caretta Research Project | Frick M.G.,Caretta Research Project | And 2 more authors.
Chelonian Conservation and Biology | Year: 2012

We examined loggerhead nest temperatures and hatchling sex ratios in an effort to more accurately predict hatchling sex ratios produced from 2 barrier islands in the northern management unit (Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge and Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia, United States) from 2000 to 2004. Temperature data loggers were placed into 169 nests to monitor incubation temperatures. Average critical period temperatures ranged from 26.3°C to 33.2°C (mean ± SE, 29.2°±0.1°C) and indicated seasonal variation in sex ratios. The sex of 669 hatchlings found dead in nests was histologically evaluated (n212 nests; 1490 nests/yr). The sex ratios varied from 0 to 100 female per nest (n153 hatchlings/nest) and average sex ratio for all nests ranged from 55.5 female in 2003 to 85.4 female in 2002. In addition to monitoring nest temperature, 10 hatchlings per nest were euthanized to verify sex during 2003 on Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge (n10 nests) and 2004 on Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge (n9 nests). Sex ratios were analyzed by using an advanced statistical program for evaluating temperature-dependent sex determination and indicated a 11 temperature (temperature that produces a 11 sex ratio) of 28.9°C. We offer an equation for predicting northern management unit hatchling loggerhead sex ratios by using critical period temperature and tested its validity. Sixteen of 18 nests (n = 10 hatchlings/nest) showed no significant difference between the predicted sex ratios based on the equation vs. sex ratios obtained through histology. Our data indicated that rookery beaches north of Florida are important areas for the production and recruitments of male loggerhead hatchlings into the overall western North Atlantic Ocean and nests deposited earliest within a nesting season are primary contributors of male turtles. We suggest that nest monitoring programs grant such nests particular protection to increase their survivability and the production of hatchlings. © 2012 Chelonian Research Foundation.

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