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, 3 (6), 712-4

The 'Lost Years' of Green Turtles: Using Stable Isotopes to Study Cryptic Lifestages


The 'Lost Years' of Green Turtles: Using Stable Isotopes to Study Cryptic Lifestages

Kimberly J Reich et al. Biol Lett.


Ignorance of the location or inaccessible locations of lifestages can impede the study and management of species. We used stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen to identify the habitats and diets and to estimate the duration of a 'missing' lifestage: the early juvenile stage of the green turtle, Chelonia mydas. Stable isotopes in scute from young herbivorous green turtles in shallow-water habitats revealed that they spend 3-5 years as carnivores in oceanic habitats before making a rapid ontogenetic shift in diet and habitat. Stable isotopes in persistent and continuously growing tissues, such as some fish scales, bird bills and claws and mammal hair and claws, can be used to evaluate the ecology of inaccessible lifestages.


Figure 1
Figure 1
(a) Mean values (±1 s.d.) of δ13C and δ15N (‰) from oceanic-stage loggerheads (n=12) and neritic green turtles resident in seagrass habitat (n=28). If Carr's hypothesis is correct, these values should be equivalent to the shift in stable isotope values (indicated by arrow) from the oldest to the youngest scute tissues from green turtles recently recruited to neritic habitats. (b) Values of δ13C and δ15N (‰) from 16 green turtle recruits, added to (a). (c) Values of δ13C and δ15N for successive scute layers from eight green turtles. Each line is an individual; each point is a layer: from left to right, oldest to youngest.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Image of a green turtle showing the two sampling sites anterior (A) and posterior (P). Diagram illustrates the sequential sample layers from posterior scute samples. Paler tissue around the anterior and lateral sides of each scute is new tissue.

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