Marine Biology

, Volume 149, Issue 4, pp 953–960 | Cite as

Leatherback turtles as oceanographic indicators: stable isotope analyses reveal a trophic dichotomy between ocean basins

  • Bryan P. Wallace
  • Jeffrey A. Seminoff
  • Susan S. Kilham
  • James R. Spotila
  • Peter H. Dutton
Research Article

Abstract

Oceanographic sampling is often limited to local and temporally concise assessments of complex, transient, and widespread phenomena. However, long-lived, migratory pelagic vertebrates such as leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea, Vandelli 1761) can provide important integrated information about broad-scale oceanographic processes. Therefore, the present study analyzed stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) of egg yolk and red blood cells from nesting leatherback populations from Costa Rica in the eastern Pacific in 2003–2004 and 2004–2005 and from St. Croix in the North Atlantic in 2004 and 2005 to establish differences between nutrient sourcing and its influence on higher trophic level consumers in both ocean basins. Whereas δ13C signatures were similar between Costa Rica (−19.1±0.7‰) and St. Croix (−19.4±1.0‰) leatherbacks, reflecting the pelagic foraging strategy of the species, Costa Rica leatherback δ15N signatures (15.4±1.8‰) were significantly enriched relative to St. Croix leatherback δ15N signatures (9.8±1.5‰). This δ15N difference likely reflects inter-basin differences in nitrogen cycling regimes and their influence on primary productivity being transferred through several trophic levels. Thus, high-order marine consumer movements, habitat preferences, and stable isotope signatures can be combined with ocean sampling to elucidate interactions between oceanographic processes and marine megafauna.

Supplementary material

227_2006_247_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (91 kb)
Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bryan P. Wallace
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jeffrey A. Seminoff
    • 2
  • Susan S. Kilham
    • 1
  • James R. Spotila
    • 1
  • Peter H. Dutton
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Bioscience and BiotechnologyDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.NOAA-National Marine Fisheries ServiceSouthwest Fisheries Science CenterLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Duke University Center for Marine ConservationNicholas School for the Environment and Earth SciencesBeaufortUSA

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