Are trends in Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting abundance affected by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability? Sixteen years of monitoring on the Pacific coast of northern Central America
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonAriano-Sánchez, D., Muccio, C., Rosell, F. & Reinhardt, S. (2020). Are trends in Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting abundance affected by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability? Sixteen years of monitoring on the Pacific coast of northern Central America. Global Ecology and Conservation, 24, e01339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01339
Long-term monitoring is essential for the identification of population trends, and to understand how these trends are affected by climate variability. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the strongest global interannual pattern of climate variability, resulting in the disruption of the annual phenological cycles of sea turtles. Among sea turtles, the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is the most abundant, and on many beaches their nests are relocated to hatcheries as part of conservation management, especially in northern Central America. However, Olive Ridley nesting abundance trends in northern Central America and the effects of ENSO variability on these trends are still not fully understood. Here, we present the first long-term study of this subject. We predicted an upward trend in Olive Ridley nesting abundance on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, and a negative effect of increasing ENSO variability on nesting abundance. As proxies for nesting abundance, we analysed two different data sets; a 16-year period of Olive Ridley nesting data, using nesting tracks from one index beach (Hawaii in Guatemala), and the yearly number of eggs buried in the 25–35 hatcheries that operate along the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Revised Multivariate ENSO Index values were applied to estimate annual ENSO variability. During this 16-year study period, ENSO variability was distributed in eight neutral years, two normal El Niño years, four normal La Niña years and two extreme ENSO events; an extreme La Niña in 2010 and an extreme El Niño in 2015. We found a clear overall upward trend in Olive Ridley numbers of nesting tracks and eggs buried in hatcheries but no clear effect of ENSO variability on these nesting abundance proxies. However, a decrease in the net change of eggs buried in hatcheries occurred the respective years after the two extreme ENSO events during the study period. In the second year after those events, the net change of eggs buried in hatcheries bounced back to resume the overall positive trend. Our results suggest a clear upward trend, resilient to ENSO variability, of the nesting abundance of the Pacific coast Olive Ridley population in Guatemala. Community-based hatchery management efforts seem to be effective for Olive Ridley conservation on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. However, longer term monitoring including additional nesting beaches in northern Central America are necessary to further elucidate the effects of ENSO variability on the nesting abundance of Olive Ridley.