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Integrating Climate Change and Management Scenarios in Population Models to Guide the Conservation of Marine Turtles

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The globally significant green turtle (Chelonia mydas) population in the northern Great Barrier Reef is threatened by anthropogenic pressures, including climate change, habitat degradation, and indigenous harvest. Evidence suggesting the population is producing an extreme proportion of females due to increasing temperatures, coupled with temperature-dependent sex determination, is concerning. In response, and to explore management options, we developed two density-independent, stochastic stage- structured metapopulation models: a "Moderate Climate Model" and an "Extreme Climate Model". The models differ based on climate change projections by incorporating increased female hatchling sex ratios due to global warming and loss of nesting habitat due to sea level rise. The models were based on demographic data from field studies at major rookeries and regional foraging grounds and allowed for variation in operational sex ratios, management actions, and levels of indigenous harvest. Under the Moderate Climate Model, population size increased but could be vulnerable to overharvest of adult females. If overharvest was indicated, the harvest of a proportion of subadults rather than only adult females reduced population declines. Under the Extreme Climate Model, there was a steep population decline even without any harvest and harvesting subadults accelerated population decline due to the inclusion of subadult males. In the Extreme Climate Model, reversal of population decline depended on male turtles mating with an increased number of females, or management actions to substantially increase the number of male hatchlings produced.

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Department of Chemistry and Bioscience, Aalborg University, Fredrik Bajers Vej 7H, 9220 Aalborg East, Denmark ; Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD 4111, Australia 2: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037 3: Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD 4111, Australia ;, Email: [email protected] 4: Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia 5: Marine Turtle Research, Ecology and Conservation Group, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306 6: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia 7: Department of Environment and Science, P. O. Box 2454, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia 8: Department of Environment and Science, P. O. Box 375, Garbutt East, QLD 4814, Australia 9: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, P. O. Box 1379, Townsville, QLD 4810, Australia

Publication date: April 1, 2022

This article was made available online on March 14, 2022 as a Fast Track article with title: "Integrating climate change and management scenarios in population models to guide the conservation of marine turtles".

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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