A simple, physiologically-based model of sea turtle remigration intervals and nesting population dynamics: Effects of temperature
Variation in the yearly number of sea turtles nesting at rookeries can interfere with population estimates and obscure real population dynamics. Previous theoretical models suggested that this variation in nesting numbers may be driven by changes in resources at the foraging grounds. We developed a physiologically-based model that uses temperatures at foraging sites to predict foraging conditions, resource accumulation, remigration probabilities, and, ultimately, nesting numbers for a stable population of sea turtles. We used this model to explore several scenarios of temperature variation at the foraging grounds, including one-year perturbations and cyclical temperature oscillations.
We found that thermally driven resource variation can indeed synchronize nesting in groups of turtles, creating cohorts, but that these cohorts tend to break down over 5-10 years unless regenerated by environmental conditions. Cohorts were broken down faster at lower temperatures. One-year perturbations of low temperature had a synchronizing effect on nesting the following year, while high temperature perturbations tended to delay nesting in a less synchronized way. Cyclical temperatures lead to cyclical responses both in nesting numbers and remigration intervals, with the amplitude and lag of the response depending on the duration of the cycle. Overall, model behavior is consistent with observations at nesting beaches. Future work should focus on refining the model to fit particular nesting populations and testing further whether or not it may be used to predict observed nesting numbers and remigration intervals.