La Roche Percée, in New Caledonia, is the most important loggerhead turtle rookery outside of Australia for the eastern Pacific genetic stock. The females nesting on this beach are genetically similar to the females found at the Mon Repos rookery in Queensland, Australia. This study shows how nest temperature affects the phenotype of genetically similar populations. During the 2010–11 breeding season, mean nest temperatures were significantly higher at La Roche Percée (31.8°C) than at Mon Repos (29.5°C) and the mean for the three-days-in-a-row maximum nest temperatures was also significantly higher at La Roche Percée (34.6°C), than at Mon Repos (31.7°C). Differences were found in mean hatching success (La Roche Percée 83 ± 3%, Mon Repos 96 ± 2%) and emergence success (La Roche Percée 76 ± 3%, Mon Repos 93 ± 3%). Hatchlings from La Roche Percée also had significantly lower fitness characteristics, having smaller carapace size (La Roche Percée 1565 ± 7 mm2, Mon Repos 1634 ± 5 mm2), slower self-righting times (La Roche Percée 4.7 ± 0.1 s, Mon Repos 2.7 ± 0.1 s) and slower crawling speed in terms of both absolute speed and body lengths per second (La Roche Percée 2.5 ± 0.2 cm s–1 or 0.57 ± 0.05 body lengths s–1, Mon Repos 4.6 ± 0.1 cm s–1 or 1.04 ± 0.02 body lengths s–1). Nest temperatures at La Roche Percée approached the upper limit of embryo thermal tolerance towards the end of incubation (34°C) and this condition may contribute to the lower hatching and emergence success and lower fitness characteristics of hatchlings at the La Roche Percée rookery.
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Vol. 60 • No. 6