Investigating variation in the life-history strategy of marine turtles
Bradshaw, Philip James
Date: 12 May 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Biological Sciences
Understanding the degree of connectivity among populations, forming migratory links and evaluating factors that influence reproductive fitness is fundamental for the successful management of migratory species of conservation concern. In this thesis I focus on a regionally important rookery of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) at Alagadi ...
Understanding the degree of connectivity among populations, forming migratory links and evaluating factors that influence reproductive fitness is fundamental for the successful management of migratory species of conservation concern. In this thesis I focus on a regionally important rookery of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) at Alagadi beach in northern Cyprus that has been intensively studied since 1992. I employ high resolution genetic markers with different modes of inheritance to reveal fine scale population structuring among four rookeries within a 200 km stretch of shoreline. The relative importance of four foraging areas and the annual contribution from each site to the breeding cohort are evaluated using the stable isotope ratios of the turtles calibrated by satellite telemetry. The stable isotope ratios of the turtles reveal that a previous undisclosed foraging site at Lake Bardawil in Egypt is critical for the population recovery of the Alagadi rookery. The temporal consistency of stable isotope ratios reaffirm that green turtles exhibit high fidelity to foraging sites allowing the evaluation of foraging area effects on reproductive traits to be evaluated over multiple seasons. I investigate the population sub-structuring of the Alagadi nesting aggregation grouped by the foraging area used. The absence of genetic structure supported the Learning Migration Goal Theory and provided evidence that the significant among site phenotypic variability in the body size of recruits, the length of interbreeding intervals and the date that the first nest of the season was made is a result of foraging areas effects. No significant among site phenotypic variability was found for the size or number of clutches laid. Among site variability in interbreeding intervals resulted in substantial variation in the reproductive potential of individuals due to assumed differences in resource availability and environmental factors. The multilocus genotypes generated for 243 nesting females were employed to reconstruct the first wild marine turtle pedigree using a full-likelihood sib-ship reconstruction approach. This revealed that the effective contribution to the next generation was unequal and allowed a minimum age to maturity to be estimated from parent – offspring assignations. However, sample size constraints prevented accurate estimates for the narrow-sense heritability of the five morphological and life-history traits from the quantitative genetic analysis. The multifaceted approach taken here to unravel the cryptic life-history of marine turtles emphasises the importance of long-term individual-based monitoring and the data generated can be employed to advise conservation strategy for this critically endangered regional management unit.
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