Marine Biology

, 163:232 | Cite as

Nesting leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) packed cell volumes indicate decreased foraging during reproduction

  • Justin R. PerraultEmail author
  • Annie Page-Karjian
  • Debra L. Miller
Original paper


Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are hypothesized to be capital breeders, whereby they forage little to none during the nesting season. The capital breeding hypothesis can be tested in marine turtles using physiological measures of health, which are much less expensive than studies that use satellite tags or other physiological monitoring equipment to make inferences about behavior and foraging status during the nesting season. In this study, we analyzed packed cell volumes (PCVs), a simple and inexpensive, hematologic health parameter, in nesting leatherback turtles from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (17°40′40″N, 64°54′0″W) across the nesting season (April–July 2009) in an effort to determine foraging status. We found that PCV in nesting females significantly declined using two longitudinal measures: nest number and level of reproductive effort. We also found that PCVs of remigrants were significantly higher in comparison with neophytes, suggesting that experience in reproductive activities (e.g., migration, breeding, nesting) might increase foraging success on feeding grounds. Lastly, we found that leatherbacks with a greater reproductive output had significantly higher PCVs. While the northwest Atlantic leatherback population is evaluated as least concern by the IUCN, Pacific leatherbacks are critically endangered. The assumed behaviors of turtles from this study provide insight into reproductive strategies and energy reserves in all marine turtle populations. Thus, the results presented here are applicable to (1) veterinarians, rehabilitation facilities, and conservationists and (2) other more vulnerable marine turtle populations.


Green Turtle Nest Season Marine Turtle Nest Female Pack Cell Volume 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the two anonymous reviewers who greatly improved the quality of this manuscript. Sampling on SPNWR was conducted in conjunction with the West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service’s (WIMARCS) saturation tagging project. We thank the staff and volunteers of WIMARCS and FAU, particularly S. Deishley, J. Garner, S. Garner, C. Niebuhr, L. Tylecki Kuniej, E. Weiss, and J. Wyneken, who provided hard work and dedication throughout this project. We thank the NOAA field team, especially K.R. Stewart, without whom hatchling collection would not have been possible. We dedicate this paper to the memory of Liz Tylecki Kuniej whose passion for marine turtles was unmistakable. She made our days in the field less tiresome and more enjoyable.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Our study was carried out in accordance with a National Marine Fisheries Service Special Use Permit # 41526-2009-004 and FAU IACUC approval A07-03. This work was supported by the West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service (JRP), the University of Georgia’s Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory (DLM), Georgia Veterinary Scholars Summer Research Program (APK) and Florida Atlantic University’s Nelligan Fund (JRP). JRP, APK and DLM declare no conflicts of interest. All authors approved the final version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justin R. Perrault
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Annie Page-Karjian
    • 2
    • 5
  • Debra L. Miller
    • 3
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  2. 2.College of Veterinary MedicineThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory, College of Veterinary MedicineThe University of GeorgiaTiftonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South Florida St. PetersburgSt. PetersburgUSA
  5. 5.Harbor Branch Oceanographic InstituteFlorida Atlantic UniversityFort PierceUSA
  6. 6.Center for Wildlife Health and Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic SciencesThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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