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Diel and seasonal patterns in activity and home range size of green turtles on their foraging grounds revealed by extended Fastloc-GPS tracking

Abstract

An animal’s home range is driven by a range of factors including top-down (predation risk) and bottom-up (habitat quality) processes, which often vary in both space and time. We assessed the role of these processes in driving spatiotemporal patterns in the home range of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), an important marine megaherbivore. We satellite tracked adult green turtles using Fastloc-GPS telemetry in the Chagos Archipelago and tracked their fine-scale movement in different foraging areas in the Indian Ocean. Using this extensive data set (5081 locations over 1675 tracking days for 8 individuals), we showed that green turtles exhibit both diel and seasonal patterns in activity and home range size. At night, turtles had smaller home ranges and lower activity levels, suggesting they were resting. In the daytime, home ranges were larger and activity levels higher, indicating that turtles were actively feeding. The transit distance between diurnal and nocturnal sites varied considerably between individuals. Further, some turtles changed resting and foraging sites seasonally. These structured movements indicate that turtles had a good understanding of their foraging grounds in regard to suitable areas for foraging and sheltered areas for resting. The clear diel patterns and the restricted size of nocturnal sites could be caused by spatiotemporal variations in predation risk, although other factors (e.g. depth, tides and currents) could also be important. The diurnal and seasonal pattern in home range sizes could similarly be driven by spatiotemporal variations in habitat (e.g. seagrass or algae) quality, although this could not be confirmed.

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Acknowledgements

We thank British Forces BIOT, MRAG Ltd, NAVFACFE PWD DG Environmental Department, and the many volunteers on Diego Garcia for logistical support. We thank L. Avens and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments which helped to improve this manuscript. FC and GCH developed the study, as part of a larger project initially conceived by GCH, NE and JAM. FC led the data processing, analyses and interpretation of the data, with contribution from GCH and AMD. FC led the writing with input from GCH. All other authors commented on the manuscript.

Funding

This project was funded by a Darwin Initiative Challenge Fund grant (EIDCF008), the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), College of Science of Swansea University, and the BIOT Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) of the FCO.

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Correspondence to Fredrik Christiansen.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Responsible Editor: L. Avens.

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Christiansen, F., Esteban, N., Mortimer, J.A. et al. Diel and seasonal patterns in activity and home range size of green turtles on their foraging grounds revealed by extended Fastloc-GPS tracking. Mar Biol 164, 10 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-016-3048-y

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Keywords

  • Home Range
  • Predation Risk
  • Home Range Size
  • Supplementary Material Table
  • Green Turtle