, Volume 147, Issue 5, pp 1251-1260
Date: 20 Jul 2005

Modelling the effect of fibropapilloma disease on the somatic growth dynamics of Hawaiian green sea turtles

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Abstract

The effect of the tumour-forming disease, fibropapillomatosis, on the somatic growth dynamics of green turtles resident in the Pala’au foraging grounds (Moloka’i, Hawai’i) was evaluated using a Bayesian generalised additive mixed modelling approach. This regression model enabled us to account for fixed effects (fibropapilloma tumour severity), nonlinear covariate functional form (carapace size, sampling year) as well as random effects due to individual heterogeneity and correlation between repeated growth measurements on some turtles. Somatic growth rates were found to be nonlinear functions of carapace size and sampling year but were not a function of low-to-moderate tumour severity. On the other hand, growth rates were significantly lower for turtles with advanced fibropapillomatosis, which suggests a limited or threshold-specific disease effect. However, tumour severity was an increasing function of carapace size—larger turtles tended to have higher tumour severity scores, presumably due to longer exposure of larger (older) turtles to the factors that cause the disease. Hence turtles with advanced fibropapillomatosis tended to be the larger turtles, which confounds size and tumour severity in this study. But somatic growth rates for the Pala’au population have also declined since the mid-1980s (sampling year effect) while disease prevalence and severity increased from the mid-1980s before levelling off by the mid-1990s. It is unlikely that this decline was related to the increasing tumour severity because growth rates have also declined over the last 10–20 years for other green turtle populations resident in Hawaiian waters that have low or no disease prevalence. The declining somatic growth rate trends evident in the Hawaiian stock are more likely a density-dependent effect caused by a dramatic increase in abundance by this once-seriously-depleted stock since the mid-1980s. So despite increasing fibropapillomatosis risk over the last 20 years, only a limited effect on somatic growth dynamics was apparent and the Hawaiian green turtle stock continues to increase in abundance.

Communicated by P. W. Sammarco, Chauvin