Intrapopulation variability in the timing of ontogenetic habitat shifts in sea turtles revealed using N-15 values from bone growth rings
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Intrapopulation variability in the timing of ontogenetic habitat shifts in sea turtles revealed using N-15 values from bone growth rings

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Animal Ecology
  • Description:
    Determining location and timing of ontogenetic shifts in the habitat use of highly migratory species, along with possible intrapopulation variation in these shifts, is essential for understanding mechanisms driving alternate life histories and assessing overall population trends. Measuring variations in multi-year habitat-use patterns is especially difficult for remote oceanic species. To investigate the potential for differential habitat use among migratory marine vertebrates, we measured the naturally occurring stable nitrogen isotope (N-15) patterns that differentiate distinct ocean regions to create a regional isotope characterization', analysed the N-15 values from annual bone growth layer rings from dead-stranded animals, and then combined the bone and regional isotope data to track individual animal movement patterns over multiple years. We used humeri from juvenile North Pacific loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), animals that undergo long migrations across the North Pacific Ocean (NPO), using multiple discrete regions as they develop to adulthood. Typical of many migratory marine species, ontogenetic changes in habitat use throughout their decades-long juvenile stage is poorly understood, but each potential habitat has unique foraging opportunities and spatially explicit natural and anthropogenic threats that could affect key life-history parameters. We found a bimodal size/age distribution in the timing that juveniles underwent an ontogenetic habitat shift from the oceanic central North Pacific (CNP) to the neritic east Pacific region near the Baja California Peninsula (BCP) (42772 vs. 683 +/- 34cm carapace length, 75 +/- 27 vs. 156 +/- 17years). Important to the survival of this population, these disparate habitats differ considerably in their food availability, energy requirements and threats, and these differences can influence life-history parameters such as growth, survival and future fecundity. This is the first evidence of alternative ontogenetic shifts and habitat-use patterns for juveniles foraging in the eastern NPO. We combine two techniques, skeletochronology and stable isotope analysis, to reconstruct multi-year habitat-use patterns of a remote migratory species, linked to estimated ages and body sizes of individuals, to reveal variable ontogeny during the juvenile life stage that could drive alternate life histories and that has the potential to illuminate the migration patterns for other species with accretionary tissues.
  • Source:
    Journal of Animal Ecology 86 (3) 694-704, 2016
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