Selectivity and repeated use of nesting sites in a freshwater turtle

M A Micheli-Campbell, Th Baumgartl, David Booth, Hamish Campbell, Marilyn Connell, Craig Franklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Understanding why turtles select specific localities to nest over others is important for management and conservation. For some species of freshwater turtle, the same localities are selected year upon year, but it is uncertain whether these localities are selected due to favored environmental conditions, or natal-site homing. The Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus) is an endangered freshwater species from Australia, and nesting data gathered between 2004 and 2011 demonstrated that female E. macrurus select to nest in specific localities along the Mary River. Here, we used time-lapse infrared photography and image-identification analysis to assess whether the same individuals returned to the same nesting banks over three consecutive years (nest-site fidelity), and we compared the physical and soil characteristics of nesting areas against other localities along the river where the turtles were not recorded to nest. The photography study illustrated that some females returned to nest at the same locality over consecutive years, whereas others did not; therefore, it is still inconclusive whether E. macrurus exhibits true nest-site fidelity. Preferred nesting areas were all northerly facing and thus exposed to higher levels of solar radiation than nonpreferred areas with similar soil and physical characteristics. Consequently, the preferred nesting areas exhibited significantly greater mean and daily fluctuations in the nest temperature compared with other areas with dummy nests. We suggest that the warmer nest temperature would speed up embryo development; therefore, female E. macrurus select to nest on northerly facing banks in an attempt to reduce the embryo incubation period. A possible reason for this behavior may be to reduce their exposure to nest-raiding predators. The study highlights importance of key nesting areas along the Mary River for the conservation of E. macrurus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-396
Number of pages14
JournalHerpetologica
Volume69
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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