Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) swim from foraging grounds along the Brazilian coast to Ascension Island to nest, over 2200 km distant in the middle of the equatorial Atlantic. To test the hypothesis that turtles use wind-borne cues to locate Ascension Island we found turtles that had just completed nesting and then moved three individuals 50 km northwest (downwind) of the island and three individuals 50 km southeast (upwind). Their subsequent movements were tracked by satellite. Turtles released downwind returned to Ascension Island within 1, 2 and 4 days, respectively. By contrast, those released upwind had far more difficulty in relocating Ascension Island, two eventually returning after 10 and 27 days and the third heading back to Brazil after failing to find its way back to the island. These findings strongly support the hypothesis that wind-borne cues are used by turtles to locate Ascension Island.
Previous tagging studies of the movements of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting at Ascension Island have shown that they shuttle between this remote target in the Atlantic Ocean and their feeding grounds on the Brazilian coast, a distance of 2300 km or more. Since a knowledge of sea turtle migration routes might allow inferences on the still unknown navigational mechanisms of marine animals, we tracked the postnesting migration of six green turtle females from Ascension Island to Brazil. Five of them reached the proximity of the easternmost stretch of the Brazilian coast, covering 1777-2342 km in 33-47 days. Their courses were impressively similar for the first 1000 km, with three turtles tracked over different dates following indistinguishable paths for the first 300 km. Only the sixth turtle made some relatively short trips in different directions around Ascension. The tracks show that turtles (i) are able to maintain straight courses over long distances in the open sea; (ii) may perform exploratory movements in different directions; (iii) appropriately correct their course during the journey according to external information; and (iv) initially keep the same direction as the west-south-westerly flowing current, possibly guided by chemical cues.
Mitochondrial DNA analyses have been useful for resolving maternal lineages and migratory behavior to foraging grounds (FG) in sea turtles. However, little is known about source rookeries and haplotype composition of foraging green turtle aggregations in the southeastern Pacific. We used mitochondrial DNA control region sequences to identify the haplotype composition of 55 green turtles, Chelonia mydas, captured in foraging grounds of Gorgona National Park in the Colombian Pacific. Amplified fragments of the control region (457 bp) revealed the presence of seven haplotypes, with haplotype (h) and nucleotide (π) diversities of h = 0.300±0.080 and π = 0.009±0.005 respectively. The most common haplotype was CMP4 observed in 83% of individuals, followed by CMP22 (5%). The genetic composition of the Gorgona foraging population primarily comprised haplotypes that have been found at eastern Pacific rookeries including Mexico and the Galapagos, as well as haplotypes of unknown stock origin that likely originated from more distant western Pacific rookeries. Mixed stock analysis suggests that the Gorgona FG population is comprised mostly of animals from the Galapagos rookery (80%). Lagrangian drifter data showed that movement of turtles along the eastern Pacific coast and eastward from distant western and central Pacific sites was possible through passive drift. Our results highlight the importance of this protected area for conservation management of green turtles recruited from distant sites along the eastern Pacific Ocean.
While fidelity to breeding sites is well demonstrated in marine turtles, emerging knowledge of migratory routes and key foraging sites is of limited conservation value unless levels of fidelity can be established. We tracked green (Chelonia mydas, n=10) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta, n=10) turtles during their post-nesting migration from the island of Cyprus to their foraging grounds. After intervals of 2–5 years, five of these females were recaptured at the nesting beach and tracked for a second migration. All five used highly similar migratory routes to return to the same foraging and over-wintering areas. None of the females visited other foraging habitats over the study period (units lasted on average 305 days; maximum, 1356 days), moving only to deeper waters during the winter months where they demonstrated extremely long resting dives of up to 10.2 h (the longest breath-holding dive recorded for a marine vertebrate). High levels of fidelity and the relatively discrete nature of the home ranges demonstrate that protection of key migratory pathways, foraging and over-wintering sites can serve as an important tool for the future conservation of marine turtles.
migration; fidelity; foraging; over-wintering; Chelonia mydas; Caretta caretta
During the reproductive season, sea turtles use a restricted area in the vicinity of their nesting beaches, making them vulnerable to predation. At Raine Island (Australia), the highest density green turtle Chelonia mydas rookery in the world, tiger sharks Galeocerdo cuvier have been observed to feed on green turtles, and it has been suggested that they may specialise on such air-breathing prey. However there is little information with which to examine this hypothesis. We compared the spatial and temporal components of movement behaviour of these two potentially interacting species in order to provide insight into the predator-prey relationship. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that tiger shark movements are more concentrated at Raine Island during the green turtle nesting season than outside the turtle nesting season when turtles are not concentrated at Raine Island. Turtles showed area-restricted search behaviour around Raine Island for ∼3–4 months during the nesting period (November–February). This was followed by direct movement (transit) to putative foraging grounds mostly in the Torres Straight where they switched to area-restricted search mode again, and remained resident for the remainder of the deployment (53–304 days). In contrast, tiger sharks displayed high spatial and temporal variation in movement behaviour which was not closely linked to the movement behaviour of green turtles or recognised turtle foraging grounds. On average, tiger sharks were concentrated around Raine Island throughout the year. While information on diet is required to determine whether tiger sharks are turtle specialists our results support the hypothesis that they target this predictable and plentiful prey during turtle nesting season, but they might not focus on this less predictable food source outside the nesting season.
Post-hatchling loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic Oceans undertake transoceanic developmental migrations. Similar migratory behaviour is hypothesized in the South Pacific Ocean as post-hatchling loggerhead turtles are observed in Peruvian fisheries, yet no loggerhead rookeries occur along the coast of South America. This hypothesis was supported by analyses of the size-class distribution of 123 post-hatchling turtles in the South Pacific and genetic analysis of mtDNA haplotypes of 103 nesting females in the southwest Pacific, 19 post-hatchlings stranded on the southeastern Australian beaches and 22 post-hatchlings caught by Peruvian longline fisheries. Only two haplotypes (CCP1 93% and CCP5 7%) were observed across all samples, and there were no significant differences in haplotype frequencies between the southwest Pacific rookeries and the post-hatchlings. By contrast, the predominant CCP1 haplotype is rarely observed in North Pacific rookeries and haplotype frequencies were strongly differentiated between the two regions (Fst=0.82; p=<0.00001). These results suggest that post-hatchling loggerhead turtles emerging from the southwest Pacific rookeries are undertaking transoceanic migrations to the southeastern Pacific Ocean, thus emphasizing the need for a broader focus on juvenile mortality throughout the South Pacific to develop effective conservation strategies.
Caretta caretta; marine turtles; conservation genetics; mtDNA; molecular markers; post-hatchling
Changes in phenology, the timing of seasonal activities, are among the most frequently observed responses to environmental disturbances and in marine species are known to occur in response to climate changes that directly affects ocean temperature, biogeochemical composition and sea level. We examined nesting seasonality data from long-term studies at 8 green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookeries that include 21 specific nesting sites in the South-West Indian Ocean (SWIO). We demonstrated that temperature drives patterns of nesting seasonality at the regional scale. We found a significant correlation between mean annual Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and dates of peak nesting with rookeries exposed to higher SST having a delayed nesting peak. This supports the hypothesis that temperature is the main factor determining peak nesting dates. We also demonstrated a spatial synchrony in nesting activity amongst multiple rookeries in the northern part of the SWIO (Aldabra, Glorieuses, Mohéli, Mayotte) but not with the eastern and southern rookeries (Europa, Tromelin), differences which could be attributed to females with sharply different adult foraging conditions. However, we did not detect a temporal trend in the nesting peak date over the study period or an inter-annual relation between nesting peak date and SST. The findings of our study provide a better understanding of the processes that drive marine species phenology. The findings will also help to predict their ability to cope with climate change and other environmental perturbations. Despite demonstrating this spatial shift in nesting phenology, no trend in the alteration of nesting dates over more than 20 years was found.
For organisms with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), skewed offspring sex ratios are common. However, climate warming poses the unique threat of producing extreme sex ratio biases that could ultimately lead to population extinctions. In marine turtles, highly female-skewed hatchling sex ratios already occur and predicted increases in global temperatures are expected to exacerbate this trend, unless species can adapt. However, it is not known whether offspring sex ratios persist into adulthood, or whether variation in male mating success intensifies the impact of a shortage of males on effective population size. Here, we use parentage analysis to show that in a rookery of the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas), despite an offspring sex ratio of 95 per cent females, there were at least 1.4 reproductive males to every breeding female. Our results suggest that male reproductive intervals may be shorter than the 2–4 years typical for females, and/or that males move between aggregations of receptive females, an inference supported by our satellite tracking, which shows that male turtles may visit multiple rookeries. We suggest that male mating patterns have the potential to buffer the disruptive effects of climate change on marine turtle populations, many of which are already seriously threatened.
marine turtle; temperature-dependent sex determination; climate change; sex ratio; mating patterns; Chelonia mydas
Laboratory and field experiments have provided evidence that sea turtles use geomagnetic cues to navigate in the open sea. For instance, green turtles (Chelonia mydas) displaced 100 km away from their nesting site were impaired in returning home when carrying a strong magnet glued on the head. However, the actual role of geomagnetic cues remains unclear, since magnetically treated green turtles can perform large scale (>2000 km) post-nesting migrations no differently from controls.
In the present homing experiment, 24 green turtles were displaced 200 km away from their nesting site on an oceanic island, and tracked, for the first time in this type of experiment, with Global Positioning System (GPS), which is able to provide much more frequent and accurate locations than previously used tracking methods. Eight turtles were magnetically treated for 24–48 h on the nesting beach prior to displacement, and another eight turtles had a magnet glued on the head at the release site. The last eight turtles were used as controls. Detailed analyses of water masses-related (i.e., current-corrected) homing paths showed that magnetically treated turtles were able to navigate toward their nesting site as efficiently as controls, but those carrying magnets were significantly impaired once they arrived within 50 km of home.
While green turtles do not seem to need geomagnetic cues to navigate far from the goal, these cues become necessary when turtles get closer to home. As the very last part of the homing trip (within a few kilometers of home) likely depends on non-magnetic cues, our results suggest that magnetic cues play a key role in sea turtle navigation at an intermediate scale by bridging the gap between large and small scale navigational processes, which both appear to depend on non-magnetic cues.
Fibropapillomatosis (FP), a transmissible neoplastic disease of marine turtles characterized by a likely herpesviral primary etiology, has emerged as an important disease in green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) over the past three decades. The objectives of this study were to determine the suitability of three different chelonid fibropapilloma-associated herpesvirus (CFPHV) gene targets in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays of affected tissues; to explore the presence of CFPHV in non-affected skin from turtles with and without tumors; and to better understand tissue localization of the CFPHV genome in a tumor-free turtle by evaluating CFPHV presence in microanatomic tissue sites. Two aggregations of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Puerto Rico were evaluated, with six sampling intervals over the three-year period 2004–2007. Primary and nested PCR for three different herpesviral gene targets- DNA polymerase, capsid maturation protease, and membrane glycoprotein B- were performed on 201 skin biopsies taken from 126 turtles with and without external tumors. Laser capture microdissection and nested PCR were used to identify tissue localizations of CFPHV in skin from a normal turtle. Of the turtles sampled in Manglar Bay, 30.5% had tumors; at the relatively more pristine Culebrita, 5.3% of turtles sampled had tumors. All three PCR primer combinations successfully amplified CFPHV from tumors, and from normal skin of both tumored and tumor-free turtles. Via nested PCR, the polymerase gene target proved superior to the other two gene targets in the positive detection of CFPHV DNA. CFPHV infection may be common relative to disease incidence, supporting the idea that extrinsic and/or host factors could play a transforming role in tumor expression. Laser capture microdissection revealed CFPHV in skin from a tumor-free turtle, harbored in both epidermal and dermal tissues. Identification of CFPHV harbored in a non-epidermal site (dermis) of a tumor-free turtle indicates that virus is latent in a non-tumored host.
CFPHV; Chelonia mydas; Fibropapillomatosis; Herpesvirus; Laser capture microdissection; Nested PCR
In many turtles, the temperature experienced during the middle of egg incubation determines the sex of the offspring. The implication of steroid sex hormones as the proximate trigger for sex determination opens the possibility that endocrine-disrupting contaminants may also influence the outcome of sexual differentiation. In this study we investigate the potential effects of DDE (a common DDT metabolite) on sexual differentiation of Chelonia mydas (green sea turtle). Four clutches of eggs collected from Heron Island, Queensland, Australia, were treated with DDE at the beginning of the thermosensitive period for sexual determination. An incubation temperature of 28 degrees C or less produces male hatchlings in this species, whereas 30 degrees C or more produces female hatchlings. Dosed eggs were consequently incubated at two temperatures (27.6 degrees C and 30.4 degrees C) on the upper and lower boundaries of the sex determination threshold for this species. DDE, ranging from 3.3 to 66.5 microg, was dissolved in 5, 10, and 25 microl ethanol and applied to eggshells above the embryo. Less than 2.5 ng/g DDE was present in eggs prior to dosing. Approximately 34% of the applied DDE was absorbed in the eggs, but only approximately 8% of applied DDE was found in embryos. Thus, treated eggs, corrected for background DDE, had up to 543 ng/g DDE. The sex ratio at these doses did not differ from what would be expected on consideration of temperature alone. Incubation time, hatching success, incidence of body deformities, hatching size, and weight were also within the limits of healthy developed hatchlings. This indicates that the eggs of C. mydas in the wild with concentrations of DDE less than 543 ng/g should produce hatchlings with relatively high hatching success, survival rate, and normally differentiated gonads.
Fibropapillomatosis (FP) of marine turtles is an emerging neoplastic disease associated with infection by a novel turtle herpesvirus, fibropapilloma-associated turtle herpesvirus (FPTHV). This report presents 23 kb of the genome of an FPTHV infecting a Hawaiian green turtle (Chelonia mydas). By sequence homology, the open reading frames in this contig correspond to herpes simplex virus genes UL23 through UL36. The order, orientation, and homology of these putative genes indicate that FPTHV is a member of the Alphaherpesvirinae. The UL27-, UL30-, and UL34-homologous open reading frames from FPTHVs infecting nine FP-affected marine turtles from seven geographic areas and three turtle species (C. mydas, Caretta caretta, and Lepidochelys olivacea) were compared. A high degree of nucleotide sequence conservation was found among these virus variants. However, geographic variations were also found: the FPTHVs examined here form four groups, corresponding to the Atlantic Ocean, West pacific, mid-Pacific, and east Pacific. Our results indicate that FPTHV was established in marine turtle populations prior to the emergence of FP as it is currently known.
The effect of climate warming on the reproductive success of ectothermic animals is currently a subject of major conservation concern. However, for many threatened species, we still know surprisingly little about the extent of naturally occurring adaptive variation in heat-tolerance. Here, we show that the thermal tolerances of green turtle (Chelonia mydas) embryos in a single, island-breeding population have diverged in response to the contrasting incubation temperatures of nesting beaches just a few kilometres apart. In natural nests and in a common-garden rearing experiment, the offspring of females nesting on a naturally hot (black sand) beach survived better and grew larger at hot incubation temperatures compared with the offspring of females nesting on a cooler (pale sand) beach nearby. These differences were owing to shallower thermal reaction norms in the hot beach population, rather than shifts in thermal optima, and could not be explained by egg-mediated maternal effects. Our results suggest that marine turtle nesting behaviour can drive adaptive differentiation at remarkably fine spatial scales, and have important implications for how we define conservation units for protection. In particular, previous studies may have underestimated the extent of adaptive structuring in marine turtle populations that may significantly affect their capacity to respond to environmental change.
local adaptation; phenotypic plasticity; climate change; natal homing; population structure; evolutionary significant unit
For the first time, Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts were identified in fecal and intestinal samples from free-ranging marine turtles, Chelonia mydas, from the Hawaiian Islands. The oocysts produced positive reactions with commercial test kits recommended for the detection of human-infectious waterborne oocysts of Cryptosporidium parvum.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)—such as organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)—and heavy metals have been reported in sea turtles at various stages of their life cycle. These chemicals can disrupt development and function of wildlife. Furthermore, in areas such as Peninsular Malaysia, where the human consumption of sea turtle eggs is prevalent, egg contamination may also have public health implications.
In the present study we investigated conservation and human health risks associated with the chemical contamination of green turtle (Chelonia mydas) eggs in Peninsular Malaysia.
Fifty-five C. mydas eggs were collected from markets in Peninsular Malaysia and analyzed for POPs and heavy metals. We conducted screening risk assessments (SRAs) and calculated the percent of acceptable daily intake (ADI) for POPs and metals to assess conservation and human health risks associated with egg contamination.
C. mydas eggs were available in 9 of the 33 markets visited. These eggs came from seven nesting areas from as far away as Borneo Malaysia. SRAs indicated a significant risk to embryonic development associated with the observed arsenic concentrations. Furthermore, the concentrations of coplanar PCBs represented 3 300 times the ADI values set by the World Health Organization.
The concentrations of POPs and heavy metals reported in C. mydas eggs from markets in Peninsular Malaysia pose considerable risks to sea turtle conservation and human health.
C. mydas; heavy metals; human health; persistent organic pollutants; risk assessments
Measuring the metabolic of sea turtles is fundamental to understanding their ecology yet the presently available methods are limited. Accelerometry is a relatively new technique for estimating metabolic rate that has shown promise with a number of species but its utility with air-breathing divers is not yet established. The present study undertakes laboratory experiments to investigate whether rate of oxygen uptake (o2) at the surface in active sub-adult green turtles Chelonia mydas and hatchling loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta correlates with overall dynamic body acceleration (ODBA), a derivative of acceleration used as a proxy for metabolic rate. Six green turtles (25–44 kg) and two loggerhead turtles (20 g) were instrumented with tri-axial acceleration logging devices and placed singly into a respirometry chamber. The green turtles were able to submerge freely within a 1.5 m deep tank and the loggerhead turtles were tethered in water 16 cm deep so that they swam at the surface. A significant prediction equation for mean o2 over an hour in a green turtle from measures of ODBA and mean flipper length (R2 = 0.56) returned a mean estimate error across turtles of 8.0%. The range of temperatures used in the green turtle experiments (22–30°C) had only a small effect on o2. A o2-ODBA equation for the loggerhead hatchling data was also significant (R2 = 0.67). Together these data indicate the potential of the accelerometry technique for estimating energy expenditure in sea turtles, which may have important applications in sea turtle diving ecology, and also in conservation such as assessing turtle survival times when trapped underwater in fishing nets.
Nesting by three species of marine turtles persists in the Dominican Republic, despite historic threats and long-term population decline. We conducted a genetic survey of marine turtles in the Dominican Republic in order to link them with other rookeries around the Caribbean. We sequenced a 740bp fragment of the control region of the mitochondrial DNA of 92 samples from three marine turtle species [hawksbill (n = 48), green (n = 2) and leatherback (n = 42)], and incorporated published data from other nesting populations and foraging grounds. The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Dominican Republic appeared to be isolated from Awala-Yalimapo, Cayenne, Trinidad and St. Croix but connected with other Caribbean populations. Two distinct nesting populations of hawksbill turtles (Eremochelys imbricata) were detected in the Dominican Republic and exhibited interesting patterns of connectivity with other nesting sites and juvenile and adult male foraging aggregations. The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) has almost been extirpated from the Dominican Republic and limited inference could be made from our samples. Finally, results were compared with Lagrangian drifting buoys and published Lagrangian virtual particles that travelled through the Dominican Republic and Caribbean waters. Conservation implications of sink-source effects or genetic isolation derived from these complex inter-connections are discussed for each species and population.
The first published record, from the early 1970s, of hibernation in sea turtles is based on the reports of the indigenous Indians and fishermen from Mexico, who hunted dormant green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Gulf of California. However, there were no successful attempts to investigate the biology of this particular behaviour further. Hence, data such as the exact duration and energetic requirements of dormant winter submergences are lacking. We used new satellite relay data loggers to obtain the first records of up to 7 h long dives of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) overwintering in Greek waters. These represent the longest dives ever reported for a diving marine vertebrate. There is strong evidence that the dives were aerobic, because the turtle surfaced only for short intervals and before the calculated oxygen stores were depleted. This evidence suggests that the common belief that sea turtles hibernate underwater, as some freshwater turtles do, is incorrect.
hibernation; reptile; dive duration; aerobic dive limit; temperature effect
Large annual fluctuations are seen in breeding numbers in many populations of non-annual breeders. We examined the interannual variation in nesting numbers of populations of green (Chelonia mydas) (n = 16 populations), loggerhead (Caretta caretta) (n = 10 populations), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) (n = 9 populations) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) (n = 10 populations). Interannual variation was greatest in the green turtle. When comparing green and loggerhead turtles nesting in Cyprus we found that green turtles were more likely to change the interval between laying seasons and showed greater variation in the number of clutches laid in a season. We suggest that these differences are driven by the varying trophic statuses of the different species. Green turtles are herbivorous, feeding on sea grasses and macro-algae, and this primary production will be more tightly coupled with prevailing environmental conditions than the carnivorous diet of the loggerhead turtle.
Herbivory is widely accepted as a vital function on coral reefs. To date, the majority of studies examining herbivory in coral reef environments have focused on the roles of fishes and/or urchins, with relatively few studies considering the potential role of macroherbivores in reef processes. Here, we introduce evidence that highlights the potential role of marine turtles as herbivores on coral reefs. While conducting experimental habitat manipulations to assess the roles of herbivorous reef fishes we observed green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) showing responses that were remarkably similar to those of herbivorous fishes. Reducing the sediment load of the epilithic algal matrix on a coral reef resulted in a forty-fold increase in grazing by green turtles. Hawksbill turtles were also observed to browse transplanted thalli of the macroalga Sargassum swartzii in a coral reef environment. These responses not only show strong parallels to herbivorous reef fishes, but also highlight that marine turtles actively, and intentionally, remove algae from coral reefs. When considering the size and potential historical abundance of marine turtles we suggest that these potentially valuable herbivores may have been lost from many coral reefs before their true importance was understood.
Chelonid fibropapillomatosis-associated herpesvirus (CFPHV) is an alphaherpesvirus believed to cause marine turtle fibropapillomatosis (FP). A serodiagnostic assay was developed for monitoring sea turtle populations for CFPHV exposure. CFPHV glycoprotein H (gH) expressed in recombinant baculovirus was used in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect virus-specific 7S turtle antibodies. Using captive-reared green turtles (Chelonia mydas) with no history of virus exposure as “known negatives” and others with experimentally induced FP as “known positives,” the assay had 100% specificity but low sensitivity, as seroconversion was detected in only half of the turtles bearing experimentally induced tumors. Antibodies were detected only in samples collected after cutaneous fibropapillomas appeared, consistent with observations that tumors are significant sites of virion production and antigen expression and the possibility that prolonged/repeated virus shedding may be required for adequate stimulation of 7S antibody responses to gH. Natural routes of infection, however, may produce higher seroconversion rates. High gH antibody seroprevalences (∼80%) were found among wild green turtles in three Florida localities with different FP prevalences, including one site with no history of FP. In addition, all eight loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) tested were seropositive despite FP being uncommon in this species. The possibility that CFPHV infection may be common relative to disease suggests roles for environmental and host factors as modulators of disease expression. Alternatively, the possibility of other antigenically similar herpesviruses present in wild populations cannot be excluded, although antibody cross-reactivity with the lung/eye/trachea disease-associated herpesvirus was ruled out in this study.
Coastal ecosystems provide vital linkages between aquatic and terrestrial habitats and thus support extremely high levels of biodiversity. However, coastlines also contain the highest densities of human development anywhere on the planet and are favoured destinations for tourists, creating a situation where the potential for negative effects on coastal species is extremely high. I gathered data on marine turtle reproductive output from the literature to determine whether coastal development negatively influences offspring production. Female loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting on natural beaches (as opposed to beaches with permanent development) produce significantly more hatchling turtles per nest; all else being equal, females that successfully produce more offspring will have higher fitness than conspecifics producing fewer offspring. Thus, female marine turtles nesting on natural beaches probably have higher fitness than turtles nesting on developed beaches. Consequently, populations nesting on natural beaches may be able to recover more quickly from the historic population declines that have plagued marine turtles, and some species may recover more quickly than others.
Caretta caretta; Chelonia mydas; coastal development; coastal habitat; hatching success; natural habitat
Nucleic acid and protein concentrations and their ratios are increasingly used as correlates of nutritional condition and growth in marine species. However, their application in studies of reptile growth has not yet been validated. The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is an endangered marine reptile for which assessing population health requires knowledge of demographic parameters such as individual growth rates. The purpose of this study was to evaluate a number of biochemical indices ([DNA], [RNA], RNA:DNA ratio, [protein], protein:DNA ratio, and RNA:protein ratio) in liver, heart, and blood as potential predictors of recent growth rate in juvenile green turtles under controlled feeding conditions. Intake of juvenile green turtles was manipulated over twelve weeks to obtain a range of growth rates. With the exception of [RNA]blood, [DNA]heart, and [protein]:[DNA]liver, all biochemical indices demonstrated significant linear relationships with growth rate during the last 1.5 weeks of the study. The best single predictors of recent growth were hepatic [RNA] and [RNA]:[protein], which explained 66% and 49%, respectively, of the variance in growth. Contrary to expectations, these two indices were negatively correlated with growth rate. To investigate the possibility that hepatic [RNA] was higher in slow-growing turtles because of elevated expression of antioxidant genes, we quantified glutathione peroxidase activity and total antioxidant potential. Both measures of antioxidant function were affected by intake and growth histories, but these effects did not explain our results for hepatic RNA and protein concentrations. We developed a model that predicted 68% of the variance in specific growth rate (SGR) with the equation SGR = −0.913(ln[RNA]liver) + 17.689(Condition Index) + 4.316. In addition, our findings that [DNA] and [RNA]:[DNA] for blood were significantly correlated with SGR demonstrate the potential utility of minimally invasive tissue sampling that could facilitate instantaneous population monitoring.
Antioxidant; Condition index; DNA; Growth; Protein; RNA
Wildlife diseases are an increasing concern for endangered species conservation, but their occurrence, causes, and human influences are often unknown. We analyzed 3,939 records of stranded Hawaiian green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) over 28 years to understand fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-forming disease linked to a herpesvirus. Turtle size is a consistent risk factor and size-standardized models revealed considerable spatial and temporal variability. The disease peaked in some areas in the 1990s, in some regions rates remained constant, and elsewhere rates increased. Land use, onshore of where the turtles feed, may play a role. Elevated disease rates were clustered in watersheds with high nitrogen-footprints; an index of natural and anthropogenic factors that affect coastal eutrophication. Further analysis shows strong epidemiological links between disease rates, nitrogen-footprints, and invasive macroalgae and points to foraging ecology. These turtles now forage on invasive macroalgae, which can dominate nutrient rich waters and sequester environmental N in the amino acid arginine. Arginine is known to regulate immune activity, promote herpesviruses, and contribute to tumor formation. Our results have implications for understanding diseases in aquatic organisms, eutrophication, herpesviruses, and tumor formation.
Marine debris is a growing problem for wildlife, and has been documented to affect more than 267 species worldwide. We investigated the prevalence of marine debris ingestion in 115 sea turtles stranded in Queensland between 2006–2011, and assessed how the ingestion rates differ between species (Eretmochelys imbricata vs. Chelonia mydas) and by turtle size class (smaller oceanic feeders vs. larger benthic feeders). Concurrently, we conducted 25 beach surveys to estimate the composition of the debris present in the marine environment. Based on this proxy measurement of debris availability, we modeled turtles’ debris preferences (color and type) using a resource selection function, a method traditionally used for habitat and food selection. We found no significant difference in the overall probability of ingesting debris between the two species studied, both of which have similar life histories. Curved carapace length, however, was inversely correlated with the probability of ingesting debris; 54.5% of pelagic sized turtles had ingested debris, whereas only 25% of benthic feeding turtles were found with debris in their gastrointestinal system. Benthic and pelagic sized turtles also exhibited different selectivity ratios for debris ingestion. Benthic phase turtles had a strong selectivity for soft, clear plastic, lending support to the hypothesis that sea turtles ingest debris because it resembles natural prey items such as jellyfish. Pelagic turtles were much less selective in their feeding, though they showed a trend towards selectivity for rubber items such as balloons. Most ingested items were plastic and were positively buoyant. This study highlights the need to address increasing amounts of plastic in the marine environment, and provides evidence for the disproportionate ingestion of balloons by marine turtles.