Hawksbill sea turtle life-stage durations, somatic growth patterns, and age at maturation

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Sea turtles exhibit complex life histories, encompassing intermittent use of multiple spatially separated habitats throughout long lifespans. This broad scope presents challenges for collecting comprehensive biological and ecological data, yet absence of such information complicates evaluation of management strategies for populations at risk of extinction. Hawksbill sea turtles Eretmochelys imbricata are endangered worldwide, primarily due to long-term, directed harvest. However, available information regarding life stage durations, somatic growth patterns, and maturation attributes to enhance understanding of anthropogenic impacts and recovery potential remains constrained. To address these data gaps in the western North Atlantic, we conducted skeletochronological analysis for hawksbills stranded along US coastlines to generate straightline carapace length (SCL)-at-age and somatic growth data. Generalized additive mixed models and bootstrapped von Bertalanffy growth curves were used to characterize age at maturation and covariate influence on somatic growth. For a subset of turtles, annual bone growth incrementspecific stable isotope and trace element analyses were incorporated to evaluate habitat use relative to age. Integration of these data sources indicated that juveniles transitioned from oceanic to neritic habitat at 1-3 yr old and mean SCLs of 23-24 cm (range 15.7-35.0 cm). Initial ages at maturation for this population at minimum nesting female SCLs were estimated at 15-25 yr. Somatic growth varied significantly relative to size, age, and stranding location, while no association with sex or calendar year was observed. Our results demonstrate the utility of these complementary analytical approaches for generating baseline data fundamental to characterizing hawksbill sea turtle population attributes.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Avens, L; Ramirez, MD; Goshe, LR; Clark, JM; Meylan, AB; Teas, W; Shaver, DJ; Godfrey, MH; Howell, L

Published Date

  • January 1, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 45 /

Start / End Page

  • 127 - 145

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1613-4796

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1863-5407

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3354/ESR01123

Citation Source

  • Scopus