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Keywords:

  • Caribbean;
  • daily mortality rate (DMR);
  • egg depredation;
  • Herpestes javanicus auropunctatus;
  • invasive species;
  • nest success;
  • reptile;
  • survival time analysis

Abstract

Nest predation is an important practical challenge for the conservation of egg-laying reptiles, with the potential to reduce hatchling recruitment and slow the recovery of threatened populations. Accurately forecasting where and when predation will occur has the potential to optimize predation management. Survival analysis, a set of statistical techniques recently popularized in studies of avian nest success, provides a unique approach for modelling variation in egg mortality risk throughout development. We used Cox proportional hazards regression to model the survival of sea turtle eggs from predation by the small Asian mongoose Herpestes javanicus, a widely introduced and destructive sea turtle nest predator in the Caribbean. We evaluated the ability of models to predict egg survival using 7 years of nest predation data for critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles Eretmochelys imbracata in Barbados. Daily predation risk was the highest for freshly laid nests, decreasing rapidly with nest age but increasing again near the end of development. Predation risk was the highest in and near patches of beach vegetation, increased over the nesting season and increased with nest density on the open beach but not in vegetation. Survival models calibrated using data from 2004 to 2005 showed excellent discrimination and ≥84% accuracy when predicting the fate of nests from previous years. Our study provides the first quantification of the daily variation in predation risk for incubating turtle eggs, revealing a narrow time window early in development during which the application of predation reduction measures is likely to have the greatest impact on nest survival. More generally, we demonstrate the utility of survival analysis for generating fine-scale predictions of spatiotemporal variation in turtle egg mortality, providing a flexible tool for the conservation of sea turtles and other egg-laying reptiles.