MEPS 372:265-276 (2008)  -  doi:10.3354/meps07702

Foraging ecology of loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta in the central Mediterranean Sea: evidence for a relaxed life history model

Paolo Casale1,*, Graziana Abbate1, Daniela Freggi2, Nicoletta Conte1, Marco Oliverio1, Roberto Argano1

1Department of Animal and Human Biology, University of Rome 1 ‘La Sapienza’, Viale dell’Università 32, 00185 Roma, Italy
2Sea Turtle Rescue Centre WWF Italy, Contrada Grecale, 92010 Lampedusa, Italy

ABSTRACT: In the central Mediterranean Sea, gut contents and feces of 95 turtles captured by bottom trawlers and pelagic longliners fishing in neritic and oceanic areas, respectively, were examined. Benthic prey were more abundant than pelagic, a probable bias due to the higher digestibility of the latter. Animal and plant taxa belonging to 12 Phyla and 20 Classes were observed, with 63 new records of prey species, and Malacostraca, Gastropoda, and Echinoidea were the most commonly occurring animal classes. Results showed a highly opportunistic foraging behavior by the turtles on both live and dead material in the epipelagic zone as well as on all types of seafloor. Benthic taxa were found in turtles as small as 26 cm curved carapace length (CCL), indicating an early use of benthic resources, and also among turtles over a wide size range caught by pelagic longliners. The lack of evidence of a strict oceanic/pelagic stage and of a clear habitat shift in the observed size range (25 to 80.3 cm CCL), when considered together with other recent findings, challenges the current ontogenetic model of life history for the species. A relaxed model is proposed, with an early short obligate epipelagic stage due to limited diving capacity, followed by the main opportunistic amphi-habitat stage, with a tendency to prefer benthic prey as turtles grow and their benthic foraging efficiency improves. Under this model, temporary or permanent association or fidelity to specific oceanic or neritic zones would vary among individuals or populations according to food availability and oceanographic features in the foraging or migratory areas.


KEY WORDS: Sea turtle · Caretta caretta · Diet · Life history · Mediterranean


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Cite this article as: Casale P, Abbate G, Freggi D, Conte N, Oliverio M, Argano R (2008) Foraging ecology of loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta in the central Mediterranean Sea: evidence for a relaxed life history model. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 372:265-276

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