Temperature is often used to infer how climate influences wildlife distributions; yet, other parameters also contribute, separately and combined, with effects varying across geographical scales. Here, we used an unoccupied aircraft system to explore how environmental parameters affect the regional distribution of the terrestrial and marine breeding habitats of threatened loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta
). Surveys spanned four years and ~620 km coastline of western Greece, encompassing low (<10 nests/km) to high (100–500 nests/km) density nesting areas. We recorded 2395 tracks left by turtles on beaches and 1928 turtles occupying waters adjacent to these beaches. Variation in beach track and inwater turtle densities was explained by temperature, offshore prevailing wind, and physical marine and terrestrial factors combined. The highest beach-track densities (400 tracks/km) occurred on beaches with steep slopes and higher sand temperatures, sheltered from prevailing offshore winds. The highest inwater turtle densities (270 turtles/km) occurred over submerged sandbanks, with warmer sea temperatures associated with offshore wind. Most turtles (90%) occurred over nearshore submerged sandbanks within 10 km of beaches supporting the highest track densities, showing the strong linkage between optimal marine and terrestrial environments for breeding. Our findings demonstrate the utility of UASs in surveying marine megafauna and environmental data at large scales and the importance of integrating multiple factors in climate change models to predict species distributions.
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