Nest site selection by individual leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea, Testudines: Dermochelyidae) in Tortuguero, Caribbean coast of Costa Rica
Nest site selection for individual leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, is a matter of dispute. Some authors suggest that a female will tend to randomly scatter her nests to optimize clutch survival at a highly dynamic beach, while others suggest that some site fidelity exists. It is also possible that both strategies exist, depending on the characteristics of each nesting beach, with stable beaches leading to repeating nest site selections and unstable beaches leading to nest scattering. To determine the strategy of the Tortuguero population of D. coriacea, female site preference and repetition were determined by studying whether females repeat their nest zone choices between successive attempts and whether this leads to a correlation in hatching and emergence success of subsequent nests. Nesting data from 1997 to 2008 was used. Perpendicular to the coastline, open sand was preferred in general, regardless of initial choice. This shows a tendency to scatter nests and is consistent with the fact that all vertical zones had a high variability in hatching and emergence success. It is also consistent with nest success not being easily predictable, as shown by the lack of correlation in success of subsequent nesting attempts. Along the coastline, turtles showed a preference for the middle part of the studied section of beach, both at a population level and as a tendency to repeat their initial choice. Interestingly, this zone has the most artificial lights, which leads to slightly lower nest success (though not significantly so) and hatchling disorientation. This finding merits further study for a possibly maladaptive trait and shows the need for increased control of artificial nesting on this beach.