Long-term apparent survival of a cold-stunned subpopulation of juveniles green turtles

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Understanding the effects of extreme weather on animal populations is fundamental to ecological and conservation sciences and species management. Climate change has resulted in both warm and cold temperature extremes, including an increased frequency of severe cold snaps at middle latitudes in North America. These unusually cold air masses cause rapid declines in nearshore ocean temperatures in coastal areas, with detrimental effects on marine organisms. Acute cold-stun events (hereafter cold stuns) occur when hundreds to thousands of resident juvenile sea turtles fail to escape shallow water during cold snaps. Human intervention through rescue and recovery largely mitigates direct juvenile sea turtle mortality, but delayed effects of cold stuns on rescued individuals are not well understood. Our objective was to examine long-term juvenile green turtle (Chelonia mydas) survival across four cold stuns of varying severity in St. Joseph Bay, Florida, between 2010 and 2018. We used the classic Cormack–Jolly–Seber model in a hierarchical Bayesian framework to estimate apparent survival (i.e., emigration and mortality) of rescued turtles at different time intervals. Our results indicated about half of a cohort rescued during a severe cold stun in January 2010 likely remained in the population 1 year later, with 10%–20% remaining 4 years later, and as few as 5% by 2018. The results also suggested higher apparent survival for cohorts rescued during two subsequent milder cold stuns. Emigration was a more plausible ecological explanation for low apparent survival than delayed mortality. Potential ecological mechanisms underlying emigration include a reduction in food availability and a behavioral response to either the severe weather event or handling during rescue (or both). However, the typical annual turnover of juvenile green turtles, though assumed low, is not well known in St. Joseph Bay. Thus, our apparent survival estimates may be reflective of higher-than-expected emigration in the broader population. Our study provides important baseline information about long-term juvenile sea turtle survival after cold stuns in temperate regions. We also highlight the importance of strategic monitoring between cold stuns to examine additional ecological questions.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Long-term apparent survival of a cold-stunned subpopulation of juveniles green turtles
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4221
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description e4221, 14 p.
Country United States
State Florida
Other Geospatial St Joseph Bay
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