Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

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Ecological Solutions and Evidence


animal movement, biodiversity conservation, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, hotspots, integrated step selection analysis, marine protected areas, satellite telemetry, sea turtles, state space modelling







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1. Optimizing the design of marine protected area (MPA) networks for the conservation of migratory marine species and their habitats involves a suite of important considerations, such as appropriate scale requirements and the distribution of anthropogenic impacts. Often, a fundamental component of the conservation planning process is delineating areas of high use or high biodiversity within a region of interest.

2. However, basing conservation strategies off merely the number of individuals in an ecosystem is outdated and potentially subject to arbitrary thresholds. To be effective at protecting marine megafauna, MPAs would ideally encompass habitats used by focal species. Through satellite-tracking studies, evidence of whether species actually use protected areas is emerging.

3. Here, we present a multispecies perspective on habitat selection within existing MPAs throughout the Floridian ecoregion, which encompasses coastal Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Using an 11-year satellite-tracking dataset on 235 marine turtles, we used integrated step selection analysis to quantify the effects of sea turtle behavioural state (identified by a switching state-space model), protected area status, chlorophyll and bathymetry on habitat selection.

4. Our results show that sea turtles do select for existing protected areas, specifically multi-use zones, while controlling for the effects of depth and primary productivity. However, our analysis revealed that turtles showed no selection for the no-take zones within MPAs, during either transiting or foraging.

5. These findings contribute to the existing literature base of MPA use for highly mobile, imperilled species and could inform management of existing MPAs or changes to zoning, specifically multi-use to no-take. Our use of a robust spatial modelling framework to evaluate habitat selection relative to MPAs could be incorporated into conservation planning to build MPA networks designed to accommodate migratory species.


We acknowledge funding for various aspects of the tagging portion of this project from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Ecosystems Wildlife program, the USGS Priority Ecosystems Science Program, the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program, the USGS Natural Resource Protection Program, Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the National Park Service. Numerous permits from several authorities across multiple states and territories have made our research possible. Permits issued to K. Hart include: MTP176; NMFS permits 20315, 17381, 13307, 16146, 22281; NPS permits EVER-2018-SCI-0023, EVER-2016-SCI-0032, EVER-2014-SCI-0031, DRTO-2018-SCI-0007, DRTO-2016-SCI-0008, DRTO-2014-SCI-0004, DRTO-2012-SCI-0008, DRTO-2010-SCI0009, DRTO-2008-SCI-0008, Federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Permit #TE98424B-1 and #TE98424B-0 (Baldwin County, Alabama); and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Special Use Permit #16-005S, 12-006S. Work was also performed under a USFWS permit issued to J. Philips: TE206903-1. Sampling was approved under Institutional Animal Care and Use protocols USGS-SESC 2011-05, USGS SESC 2014-03, SER-BISC-BUIS-DRTO-EVER-Hart-Sea Turtles-Terrapins2018-A2. We also thank the following USGS staff and contractors who were critical to the field portion of this study: Mike Cherkiss, David Roche, Andrew Crowder, Mat Denton, Megan Arias, Peter Iacono, Veronica Winter, Ashley Meade, Autumn Iverson, and Thomas Selby. We thank National Park Service interns and colleagues Tracy Ziegler Tree Gottshall, Glenn Simpson, Meaghan Johnson, Kayla Nimmo, Allen Zamrock, Janie Douglass, Clay ‘Blue’ Douglass, John Spade, Mikey Kent, Tylan Dean and Dave Hallac. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.





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