University of Glasgow researchers publish new study on the nesting habits of sea turtles

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Erin Steinmetz
Reporter

The research on “decoy nests” challenges popular sea turtle nesting theories.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have published a study on the nesting habits of sea turtles that challenge popular theories.

Joining the University of Glasgow Exploration Society on their expeditions to Trinidad and Tobago, researchers investigated two endangered species of sea turtles, leatherbacks and hawksbills. The new research suggests that the two species of sea turtles create “decoy nests” to protect their eggs from predators.

After laying their eggs, the female sea turtles spend a great deal of time and effort covering the nest chamber with sand. This activity is dangerous for the sea turtles as extending their time on the beach exposes them to predators and exhaustion.

Popular thought was that this activity was a way of camouflaging the nest site from egg predators. However, the University’s new research suggests that in order to lower the risk of predators finding the nest, sea turtles create decoy nests away from the main nest.

Professor of Natural History at the University of Glasgow, Malcolm Kennedy, said: “Our research sheds new light on the behaviour of nesting marine turtles. We closely followed the activity and movements of hawksbill and leatherback turtles during the final ‘sand scattering’ phase of nesting.

“Our findings strongly support the idea that they create a series of decoy nests away from the nest itself to reduce discovery of their eggs by predators.

“This may explain why, despite all the extra risks, female turtles stay on the beach away from the safety of the sea, working to enhance the safety of their eggs.

“What they do must be extremely important to their offspring, which they will leave behind as eggs in the sand and never see.”

Organised by Professor Kennedy and Tom Burns, the research stretched over a period of seven years and involved work by them and undergraduate students on remote nesting beaches.