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First Time’s a Charm? Loggerhead Neophyte Mothers Have Higher Hatch Success

John M. Carroll1,*, Mattie J. Whitesell1, Elizabeth A. Hunter1, and David C. Rostal1

1Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA 30458. *Corresponding author.

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 21, Issue 4 (2022): 291–298

Abstract
Caretta caretta (Loggerhead Sea Turtle) is a globally threatened sea turtle species that nests on United States Atlantic coast beaches. While several environmental factors influence egg incubation and hatching success, maternal identity may also play an important role and has been overlooked. New molecular advances, such as ongoing genetic capture–recapture using eggshells, allow the identification of individual females using fresh eggshells, which can then be used to track nesting and hatching success across individual females. Across 2 consecutive nesting seasons, we monitored 170 nests for environmental conditions as part of a larger Georgia Department of Natural Resources monitoring program. Mothers had been identified using molecular data and classified as either neophytes or remigrants. We identified 34 of the nests as belonging to neophyte Loggerhead mothers, which exhibited a 61% hatching success rate, compared to only 46% success for remigrant mothers (P < 0.01). Further analysis suggested no differences in environmental parameters between neophyte and remigrant nests. Thus, while it is possible that different-aged mothers make different nesting-site choices that could affect the nest environment, it is likely that Loggerhead reproductive biology, such as maternal investment, may change over time. More data are required to fully investigate maternal effects on hatching success and to elucidate the mechanisms, both within this species and across multiple species of sea turtles.

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