Foraging Ecology and Stress in Sea Turtles

2019-08-13T17:04:43Z (GMT) by Chelsea E Clyde-Brockway
As ectothermic marine megafauna, sea turtle physiology and ecology are tightly intertwined with temperature, seasonality, and oceanography. Identifying how turtles respond when exposed to cold water, how they adapt to cold environments when they need to explore cold environments in order to forage, and what foraging resources are exploited by sea turtles are all components central to their conservation. Cold-stunning is a well-documented phenomenon that occurs when water induced decreases in sea turtle body temperature cause turtles to become immobilized and wash ashore. While most cold-stunned turtles are rescued and rehabilitated, we do not know whether cold-stunning is an acute transient occurrence, or a symptom of a bigger environmental problem. Further, while in some environments avoiding cold water is preferential, in other habitats, sea turtles need to inhabit cold environments in order to forage. Along the Eastern Pacific Rim, discrete upwelling locations are characterized by high primary productivity and unusually cold water. In these environments, avoidance is not possible and sea turtles require physiological adaptions to mitigate body temperature decreases in cold water. Little is known about how turtles handle upwelling environments, despite the fact that sea turtles remain in these habitats regardless of water temperature fluctuations. Because upwelling habitats provide increased nutrient presence, and sea turtles are opportunistic foragers, quantification of diet composition will further our understanding of why sea turtles remain in cold water environments year-round. Diet composition in multiple populations of cohabitating sea turtles revealed partitioning that results in reduced inter-specific competition. Further, flexibility in diets provides a wide range of ecosystem services central to habitat resiliency. Therefore, conservation of endangered sea turtles requires complete ecosystem conservation, and complete understanding of the interconnectivity of sea turtles and their environments is crucial.