Nest site selection and nesting behavior of the mud turtle Kinosternon scorpiodes (Testudines, Kinosternidae) in Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica: implications for management.
Habitat selection is the process whereby individuals preferentially use, or occupy, a non-random set of available habitats. At the same time, nest site selection is defined as the placement of eggs by females at sites differing from random sites within a delimited area. We located 59 nests of the mud turtle Kinosternon scorpioides in Palo Verde National Park (PVNP) in Northwestern Costa Rica. We compared eight microhabitat variables at nest sites against those at random sites. Females significantly placed their eggs at sites with more understory, leaf litter cover, and greater leaf litter depth than in random sites. Additionally, females selected sites with lower air and soil temperature and lower air humidity. Palo Verde NP is subject to active management actions designed to control invasive plant species in the wetland, namely cattail (Thypha domingensis Pers.). The main actions have been cattle grazing, controlled fires, and mechanical crushing of vegetation. We found that habitat quality in nesting areas is being threatened by at least one of these actions: cattle grazing. This is detrimental for three microhabitat traits that turtles select for nesting sites: understory cover, leaf litter cover, and leaf litter depth. The continued degradation of microhabitats at nesting areas of K. scorpioides at PVNP could be affecting recruitment due to embryo survivorship.