, Volume 156, Issue 10, pp 2021-2031

Influence of emergence success on the annual reproductive output of leatherback turtles

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Reproductive output of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) is affected by the stochastic nature of emergence success. Average emergence success of nests at Playa Grande, Costa Rica was 0.38 ± 0.27. Incubation temperature affected development of leatherback turtle eggs and emergence of hatchlings from the nest. We found that high temperatures reduced hatching success and emergence rate and increased embryonic mortality both early and late during incubation at Playa Grande. There was a temporal effect on emergence success that resulted in more hatchlings being produced at the beginning of the season, because of higher emergence success, than toward the end. Likewise, production of hatchlings varied from year to year. The average annual reproductive output was 252 ± 141 hatchlings per female. The 2005–2006 nesting season had the highest emergence success and produced the greatest number of hatchlings per female compared to the 2004–2005 (+120%) and 2006–2007 (+41%) seasons. However, average clutch size (62 ± 10) and clutch frequency (9.45 ± 1.63), were not different among years. Turtles that had nested a high number of years exhibited greater clutch frequency and arrived earlier to nest than turtles that had nested in fewer numbers of years. Nesting when environmental conditions favor high developmental success and emergence rate may constitute an advantageous reproductive strategy.

Communicated by R. Lewison.