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Variability in age and size at maturation, reproductive longevity, and long-term growth dynamics for Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico
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    PLOS ONE, 12(3), 24.
Filetype[PDF-1.62 MB]

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    Effective management of protected sea turtle populations requires knowledge not only of mean values for demographic and life-history parameters, but also temporal and spatial trends, variability, and underlying causes. For endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempii), the need for baseline information of this type has been emphasized during attempts to understand causes underlying the recent truncation in the recovery trajectory for nesting females. To provide insight into variability in age and size at sexual maturation (ASM and SSM) and long-term growth patterns likely to influence population trends, we conducted skeletochronological analysis of humerus bones from 333 Kemp's ridleys stranded throughout the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from 1993 to 2010. Ranges of possible ASMs (6.8 to 21.8 yr) and SSMs (53.3 to 68.3 cm straightline carapace length (SCL)) estimated using the "rapprochement" skeletal growth mark associated with maturation were broad, supporting incorporation of a maturation schedule in Kemp's ridley population models. Mean ASMs estimated from rapprochement and by fitting logistic, generalized additive mixed, and von Bertalanffy growth models to age and growth data ranged from 11 to 13 yr; confidence intervals for the logistic model predicted maturation of 95% of the population between 11.9 and 14.8 yr. Early juvenile somatic growth rates in the GOM were greater than those previously reported for the Atlantic, indicating potential for differences in maturation trajectories between regions. Finally, long-term, significant decreases in somatic growth response were found for both juveniles and adults, which could influence recruitment to the reproductive population and observed nesting population trends.
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