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The effects of nest environment on calcium mobilization by leatherback turtle embryos (Dermochelys coriacea) during development.

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Department of Biology, Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499, USA.


We investigated the effect of sand moisture content and sand temperature on developmental success and the mobilization of calcium during development using laboratory incubated eggs (n=251) collected from leatherbacks nesting at Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Costa Rica. Calcium concentrations of egg components [eggshell, yolk plus albumen (Y+A) and embryo] changed significantly through incubation for both viable and undeveloped eggs. In developed eggs, eggshell calcium content decreased 42.9% by day 60 of incubation. The Y+A calcium decreased by 20.8% until the last quarter of incubation, and then increased to 0.99% above initial Y+A calcium concentrations just prior to hatching. In undeveloped eggs, eggshell calcium content decreased by 25.7%, with the rate of decrease slowing significantly beyond day 30 of incubation. In contrast, Y+A calcium increased steadily through the 60-day incubation period. Embryos incorporated a higher proportion of calcium when incubated at a lower sand moisture content (5% H(2)O>12% H(2)O) and at lower sand temperatures (28.5 degrees C, 29.5 degrees C>31.0 degrees C). The total wet mass of freshly oviposited eggs was negatively correlated with calcium concentration per gram of eggshell (r=-0.569; P<0.001). Thus, each yolked egg, regardless of initial wet mass, had an average of 1.23 g (+/-0.43 g) of calcium per egg (Mean egg mass: 76.24+/-1.21 g). Both developmental success (24.1%) and hatching success (7.4%) of laboratory-incubated eggs were dependent to a greater extent on temperature than on moisture, with an increase in mortality as sand temperature increased. For natural nests on Playa Grande, developmental success (37.4%) and hatching success (19.8%) were similar in magnitude to the results obtained from the laboratory. The recent ENSO (El NiƱo Southern Oscillation) event and increased tidal activity may be responsible for the high embryonic mortality measured during the 1997-1998 nesting season.

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