Behavioural plasticity in a large marine herbivore: contrasting patterns of depth utilisation between two green turtle (Chelonia mydas) populations


We used time-depth recorders to measure depth utilisation in gravid green turtles (Chelonia mydas) during the internesting period at northern Cyprus (Mediterranean), a nesting area where individuals feed, and at Ascension Island (mid-Atlantic), a nesting area where individuals fast. There were contrasting patterns of depth utilisation between the two sites, illustrating that the behaviour of this species is shaped by local conditions. For example, the amount of time spent shallower than 4 m was 90% at Cyprus but only 31% at Ascension Island, and there was a clear difference between the mean depth at Cyprus (2.7 m, n=9 internesting intervals) versus Ascension Island (9.5 m, n=6 internesting intervals) (t 5=5.92, P=0.002). At Cyprus, turtles spent the greatest percentage of their time at very shallow depths, where surveys reveated a high abundance of seagrass on which this population feeds. In contrast, the deeper distribution at Ascension Island may reflect the preferred depth for resting on the seabed.

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Correspondence to G. C. Hays.

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Published online: 23 July 2002

Communicated by G.F. Humphrey, Sydney

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Hays, G.C., Glen, F., Broderick, A.C. et al. Behavioural plasticity in a large marine herbivore: contrasting patterns of depth utilisation between two green turtle (Chelonia mydas) populations. Marine Biology 141, 985–990 (2002).

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  • Green Turtle
  • Nest Area
  • Nest Season
  • Nest Beach
  • Minimise Energy Loss