Somatic growth dynamics are an integrated response to environmental conditions. Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are long-lived, major consumers in coral reef habitats that move over broad geographic areas (hundreds to thousands of kilometers). We evaluated spatio-temporal effects on hawksbill growth dynamics over a 33-yr period and 24 study sites throughout the West Atlantic and explored relationships between growth dynamics and climate indices. We compiled the largest ever data set on somatic growth rates for hawksbills – 3541 growth increments from 1980 to 2013. Using generalized additive mixed model analyses, we evaluated 10 covariates, including spatial and temporal variation, that could affect growth rates. Growth rates throughout the region responded similarly over space and time. The lack of a spatial effect or spatio-temporal interaction and the very strong temporal effect reveal that growth rates in West Atlantic hawksbills are likely driven by region-wide forces. Between 1997 and 2013, mean growth rates declined significantly and steadily by 18%. Regional climate indices have significant relationships with annual growth rates with 0- or 1-yr lags: positive with the Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation Index (correlation = 0.99) and negative with Caribbean sea surface temperature (correlation = −0.85). Declines in growth rates between 1997 and 2013 throughout the West Atlantic most likely resulted from warming waters through indirect negative effects on foraging resources of hawksbills. These climatic influences are complex. With increasing temperatures, trajectories of decline of coral cover and availability in reef habitats of major prey species of hawksbills are not parallel. Knowledge of how choice of foraging habitats, prey selection, and prey abundance are affected by warming water temperatures is needed to understand how climate change will affect productivity of consumers that live in association with coral reefs.
The rainbow parrotfish Scarus guacamaia has an obligate dependence on man- groves at juvenile stages, and, as the largest herbivorous fish in the Caribbean region, its distribution has important implications for coral reefs. The effect of connectivity with mangroves on relative density, biomass and size of S. guacamaia was assessed from over 65 km of visual sur- veys from Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands. In addition, an individual-based, age-structured, mechanistic model (IBM) was developed to explain dispersal patterns from nurseries for S. guaca- maia. In the IBM, mortality was constant, growth was determined by a von Bertalanffy growth equation, and movement was modeled through a random walk process. Using the IBM, simula- tions were run to generate patterns of density, biomass, and size with distance from nurseries. Rainbow parrotfish were observed as far as 42 km away from the nearest mangroves on Bonaire. Relative density and biomass showed significant exponential declines with distance from the pri- mary mangrove nursery and were significantly higher in high versus low complexity non-man- grove habitats. Mean size increased linearly with distance (r2 = 0.74), reflecting an absence of smaller individuals with greater distance. These results were closely mirrored by the simulation study: density and biomass declined exponentially with distance from nurseries, and size and age increased following saturating functions. The results suggest that mangroves may have the poten- tial to supply individuals much further than previously thought. Both the empirical and simulation studies reaffirm calls to prioritise protection of reef habitats close to nurseries as well as the nurseries themselves.