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Keywords:

  • marine turtles;
  • Chelonia mydas;
  • Eretmochelys imbricata;
  • corticosterone;
  • reproductive tactics

Abstract

The relationships between reproductive condition, level of reproductive investment and adrenocortical modulation to capture stress in marine turtles form the basis of this study. When subjected to either capture or ecological stressors, nesting marine turtles have demonstrated adrenocortical responses that are both small in magnitude, and slow in responsiveness. These observations were further investigated to determine whether this minimal stress response was a physiological strategy to maximize reproductive investment in adult green Chelonia mydas and hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata turtles. Female green and hawksbill turtles exhibited a decrease in adrenocortical responsiveness with progressive reproductive condition. Breeding turtles exhibited most suppression of their adrenocortical response to capture compared to both non-breeding and pre-breeding female counterparts. Nesting green turtles maintained a suppressed adrenocortical response to capture throughout the nesting season despite decreased reproductive investment. In contrast, male green and hawksbill turtles were less able to modulate their corticosterone (B) response to acute capture stress. During breeding, male turtles possessed significantly greater adrenocortical responses to capture than females. These results could indicate that the large reproductive investment necessary for female marine turtle reproduction might underlie the marked decrease in adrenocortical responsiveness. This hormonal mechanism could function as one strategy by which female marine turtles maximize their current reproductive event, even though under certain situations this mechanism could entail costs to female survival.