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Nest-site selection behavior is a maternal effect that contributes to offspring survival and variation in offspring phenotypes that are subject to natural selection. We investigated nest-site selection and its consequences in the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, in northwestern Illinois. We evaluated nest-site selection at both the microhabitat and habitat patch levels. Turtles selected nest sites with shorter vegetation, more open sand, and fewer cacti than random locations. These microhabitat characteristics described sandy patches where both nest density and success were higher compared to grassy patches in 1999. We subsequently investigated nest-site selection within two discrete subdivisions of the study area that varied in the degree of human disturbance to determine if nesting behavior, nest success, or nest temperatures were affected. The tendency to nest in sandy patches was much stronger at the natural site due to habitat modifications at the residential site that have blurred the distinction between sandy and grassy patches. Additionally, the residential site had a high density of nests within 5 m of houses and a fence (both areas with disturbed habitat similar to sandy patches), compared to the overall density. Thus, nest success associated with sandy patches may be compromised at the residential site; an ecological trap may result in lower nest success in areas with preferred microhabitat characteristics. Despite a similar basis for nest-site selection in terms of microhabitat characteristics at both sites, nest temperatures were correlated with microhabitat characteristics used to select nest sites only at the natural site. Nest temperatures at the residential site were instead correlated only with the percentage overstory vegetation cover and therefore averaged 2°C lower than at the natural site, a temperature difference that influenced offspring sex. The higher percentage overstory vegetation cover at the residential site was due to human alterations of the habitat, and may serve to extend the ecological trap biasing the sex ratio of this population. This study illustrates the importance of (1) nest-site selection as a substantive maternal effect, (2) understanding habitat use during crucial life-history events, and (3) the potential for human disturbance to modify offspring phenotypes and negatively impact nest success despite adaptive nesting behavior.


This article is from Ecology 83 (2002): 269, doi: 10.1890/0012-9658(2002)083[0269:IONSSO]2.0.CO;2. Posted with permission.


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Ecological Society of America



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