MEPS 421:291-302 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08871

Migratory dichotomy and associated phenotypic variation in marine turtles revealed by satellite tracking and stable isotope analysis

Judith A. Zbinden1,4, Stuart Bearhop1, Philip Bradshaw2, Bronwen Gill2, Dimitris Margaritoulis2, Jason Newton3, Brendan J. Godley1,*

1Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
2ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, Solomou, 10432 Athens, Greece
3NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, UK
4Present address: Hochfeldstrasse, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Linking foraging and breeding habitats is key to the understanding of behaviour, ecology and demography of migratory species. Establishing such connections has long been hampered by the logistical problems of following individuals between foraging and breeding areas, especially in the marine realm. We used variation in nitrogen stable isotope patterns between 2 foraging regions of loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta determined from samples of satellite-tracked individuals to assign untracked turtles to a foraging region. We sought to enhance determination of the relative importance of geographically separated foraging regions and to investigate the relationship between fitness correlates and inferred migratory strategies. Of 18 turtles followed by satellite tracking from Zakynthos (Greece), 10 moved north to foraging areas in the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Amvrakikos and 8 moved south to foraging areas off the coast of North Africa. Of 51 untracked individuals sampled for stable isotope analysis, we considered the stable isotope signature of 47 to qualify for assignment to foraging areas in the north (n = 22) and south (n = 25). Females foraging north were significantly larger (curved carapace length), and the former group laid larger clutches  (even after correction for body length) than turtles foraging south, a fact that can be interpreted as a carry-over effect. Combining satellite tracking with stable isotope signatures in marine turtles opens new perspectives into how forensic tracking methodologies may be used to scale up knowledge from electronic tracking of a limited number of individuals to sample sizes that are more meaningful from a population perspective.


KEY WORDS: Migration · Carry-over effect · Stable isotope · Satellite tracking · Mediterranean · Loggerhead sea turtle · Caretta caretta


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Cite this article as: Zbinden JA, Bearhop S, Bradshaw P, Gill B, Margaritoulis D, Newton J, Godley BJ (2011) Migratory dichotomy and associated phenotypic variation in marine turtles revealed by satellite tracking and stable isotope analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 421:291-302

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