Ontogenetic Diet Shifts of Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) in a Mid-Ocean Developmental Habitat
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) arrive on the geographically isolated Bermuda platform as small juveniles and remain until they are approaching sexual maturity, at which point individuals depart for distant feeding and nesting sites. It has been reported that younger green turtles generally tend to carnivory or omnivory and that seagrasses become a significant food source as the turtles grow. Evidence indicates that grazing by green sea turtles in Bermuda is negatively impacting seagrass beds, thus understanding their diets is important to both conserving the turtles and their food. Stable isotope methods were used to investigate ontogenetic diet shifts of green sea turtles and to determine reliance on seagrass by larger turtles. Skin samples from 157 individual turtles and samples of known turtle foods, plants and animals, were collected for determination of consumer and food δ13C and δ15N values. A Bayesian stable isotope mixing model analysis indicated a wide range among individual turtles’ diets, with the greatest differences occurring between small and large turtles; larger turtles consumed seagrass almost exclusively. We also examined diet changes in 12 turtles captured in two successive years; these recapture data confirmed the changes in diet suggested by the relationship between size of turtles and diet composition. Very limited evidence was found of any diet variation among larger turtles that would indicate a shift away from declining seagrasses as their major food source.
Claire M. Burgett, Derek A. Burkholder, Kathryn A. Coates, Virginia L. Fourqurean, W. Judson Kenworthy, Sarah A. Manuel, Mark E. Outerbridge, and James W. Fourqurean. 2018. Ontogenetic Diet Shifts of Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) in a Mid-Ocean Developmental Habitat .Marine Biology , (33) : 1 -12. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/occ_facarticles/913.