Identifying oceanic foraging grounds of sea turtles in the Atlantic using lead isotopes
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- López-Castro, M.C., Bjorndal, K.A., Kamenov, G.D. et al. Mar Biol (2014) 161: 2269. doi:10.1007/s00227-014-2504-9
Many species of marine organisms go through ontogenetic shifts that occur in unknown or inaccessible locations. Finding these areas is crucial to understand connectivity and resilience of populations, both of which have conservation implications. When extrinsic markers are not suitable to track organisms, intrinsic markers can be useful to infer the location of inaccessible areas where these cryptic stages occur. Our study focuses on the location of oceanic foraging areas of the cryptic early juvenile stage of green turtles, Chelonia mydas, in the Atlantic. Due to the small size of hatchlings, the use of telemetry is limited to short periods of time and small spatial ranges, which do not allow determining the location of oceanic foraging areas. We used lead (Pb) stable isotopes to determine the possible location of oceanic foraging areas of small green turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. Pb stable isotope ratios in the scute tissue deposited when turtles were in the oceanic habitat were compared to ratios of major sources of lead in the Atlantic and oceanic areas in the Atlantic to determine the location of oceanic foraging grounds. The Pb isotope ratios in the scute of oceanic-stage green turtles indicated that turtles use different regions in the Atlantic and that they are capable of transatlantic migrations. We compare the oceanic locations identified by this study with those suggested by two previous studies.