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A jellyfish diet for the herbivorous green turtle Chelonia mydas in the temperate SW Atlantic

Abstract

Feeding ecology of juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas) was studied from 2008 to 2011 at Samborombón Bay (35°30′–36°30′S, Argentina), combining data on digestive tract examination and stable isotope analysis through a Bayesian mixing model. We found that animal matter, in particular gelatinous plankton, was consumed in large proportions compared to herbivorous food items such as terrestrial plants and macroalgae. This diet is facilitated by the high abundance of gelatinous plankton in the region, thus confirming the adaptive foraging behaviour of the juveniles according to prey abundance in the SW Atlantic. To our knowledge, this is the first study to employ this combination of techniques and to conclusively demonstrate that animal matter, in particular gelatinous plankton, is important in the diet of the neritic green sea turtles.

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Acknowledgments

Access to study animals was kindly facilitated by the Regional Program for Sea Turtle Research and Conservation of Argentina (PRICTMA) and the laboratory facilities by the National Institute for Fisheries Research and Development (INIDEP) and the Mar del Plata National University. The wildlife agencies of Buenos Aires province and the National Wildlife Agency of Argentina issued permits and supported our research. We would like to thank Ignacio Bruno for his assistance during fieldwork and laboratory activities. We are also grateful to the fishermen from San Clemente del Tuyú that provided information and collaborated with the program. We appreciate the advice given by Dr. Gabriel Genzano, Dr. Diego Giberto, Dr. Hugo Benavidez, Dr. Daniel Hernandez, Dr. Shaleyla Kelez, Dr. Paulo Barata and Dr. Andrew Parnell, regarding the species identification, the stable isotope analysis and the statistical approach used. Funding was provided by the Buenos Aires Zoo to DA, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fondo para la Conservación Ambiental from Banco Galicia, the FONCyT PICT 1553, and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) CRN 2076 sponsored by the US National Science Foundation grant GEO-0452325 to HM. VGC is supported by scholarship from CONICET. This study adhered to the legal requirements of Argentina and to all institutional guidelines. This is INIDEP contribution no. 1842.

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Correspondence to Victoria González Carman.

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Communicated by R. Lewison.

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González Carman, V., Botto, F., Gaitán, E. et al. A jellyfish diet for the herbivorous green turtle Chelonia mydas in the temperate SW Atlantic. Mar Biol 161, 339–349 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-013-2339-9

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Keywords

  • Macroalgae
  • Stable Isotope Analysis
  • Green Turtle
  • Discrimination Factor
  • Ontogenetic Shift