Developing a common currency for stable isotope analyses of nesting marine turtles
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- Ceriani, S.A., Roth, J.D., Ehrhart, L.M. et al. Mar Biol (2014) 161: 2257. doi:10.1007/s00227-014-2503-x
Understanding geospatial linkages is critical to the development of appropriate management and conservation strategies for migratory species. Stable isotope analysis is a powerful tool that is performed routinely across taxa to unravel migratory connectivity. Marine turtles are a highly migratory and widely distributed taxon, but are largely studied at breeding areas. Isotopic values of several slow turnover rate tissues have been used to identify often distant foraging areas. However, as more isotopic data from various tissues become available, the relationships between tissues need to be calculated to permit meta-analyses to elucidate isotopic patterns across broader spatiotemporal scales. We used several commonly collected tissues (blood, skin, fresh eggs and unhatched eggs) collected simultaneously from loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) to develop a common currency for stable isotope analysis studies conducted on the nesting beach. We found highly significant relationships between the tissue signatures (r2 ranged from 0.83 to 0.96) and developed equations to convert isotopic values from one tissue to another. We examined inter- and intra-clutch isotopic variability and found that a single sampling event over the 4-month nesting season adequately defined the loggerhead female foraging area. Consequently, we propose using unhatched eggs as a common currency in stable isotope studies of nesting loggerheads. Unhatched eggs represent a noninvasive and nondestructive method that enables more extensive (both numerically and spatially) sampling. Given similar physiologies, analogous relationships might be derived in other sea turtle species.