Time in tortoiseshell: a bomb radiocarbon-validated chronology in sea turtle scutes

TitleTime in tortoiseshell: a bomb radiocarbon-validated chronology in sea turtle scutes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsVan Houtan, KS, Andrews, AH, Jones, TT, Murakawa, SKK, Hagemann, ME
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences
Date PublishedJan 13
ISSN0962-8452 (Linking)
Accession Number26740617

Some of the most basic questions of sea turtle life history are also the most elusive. Many uncertainties surround lifespan, growth rates, maturity and spatial structure, yet these are critical factors in assessing population status. Here we examine the keratinized hard tissues of the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) carapace and use bomb radiocarbon dating to estimate growth and maturity. Scutes have an established dietary record, yet the large keratin deposits of hawksbills evoke a reliable chronology. We sectioned, polished and imaged posterior marginal scutes from 36 individual hawksbills representing all life stages, several Pacific populations and spanning eight decades. We counted the apparent growth lines, microsampled along growth contours and calibrated Δ14C values to reference coral series. We fit von Bertalanffy growth function (VBGF) models to the results, producing a range of age estimates for each turtle. We find Hawaii hawksbills deposit eight growth lines annually (range 5–14), with model ensembles producing a somatic growth parameter (k) of 0.13 (range 0.1–0.2) and first breeding at 29 years (range 23–36). Recent bomb radiocarbon values also suggest declining trophic status. Together, our results may reflect long-term changes in the benthic community structure of Hawaii reefs, and possibly shed light on the critical population status for Hawaii hawksbills.