Out-foxing the red fox: How best to protect the nests of the Endangered loggerhead marine turtle Caretta caretta from mammalian predation?

David J. Kurz, Princeton University
Katherine M. Straley, Ithaca College
Brett A. DeGregorio, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Abstract

Recovery plans for the Endangered loggerhead marine turtle Caretta caretta cite mammalian predation as a major threat, and recommend nest protection efforts, already present at many rookery beaches, to protect eggs and hatchlings. Nest protection techniques vary but wire box cages and plastic mesh screens are two common tools used to deter predation by a host of beach-foraging, opportunistic mammalian predators. We empirically tested the efficacy of wire cages and plastic mesh screens in preventing red fox Vulpes vulpes predation on artificial nests. Both techniques averted fox predation (0%), whereas unprotected control nests suffered 33% predation under conditions of normal predator motivation, or a level of motivation stimulated by loggerhead turtle egg scent. However, in side-by-side comparisons under conditions of presumed high predator motivation, 25% of mesh screens were breached whereas no cage-protected nests were successfully predated. In addition to effectiveness at preventing predation, factors such as cost, ease of use, deployment time, and magnetic disturbance were evaluated. Our study suggests that the efficacy of plastic screens and the potential disadvantages associated with galvanized wire should influence selection of mechanical barriers on beaches where fox predation threatens loggerhead nests. © 2011 Fauna & Flora International.