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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 491:235-251 (2013)  -  DOI:

Complementary skeletochronology and stable isotope analyses offer new insight into juvenile loggerhead sea turtle oceanic stage duration and growth dynamics

Larisa Avens1,*, Lisa R. Goshe1, Mariela Pajuelo2, Karen A. Bjorndal2, Bradley D. MacDonald3, Garrett E. Lemons4, Alan B. Bolten2, Jeffrey A. Seminoff3

1NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Beaufort Laboratory, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
2Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research and Department of Biology, University of Florida, PO Box 118525, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
3NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 86014 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
4Department of Biology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92115, USA

ABSTRACT: Stage durations are integral to wildlife population models that can inform management, as they influence age at maturation and stage-specific survival rates. To refine oceanic stage duration estimates for western North Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta, skeletochronological analysis was conducted on humeri collected in the Azores islands and along the US Atlantic coast. Complementary skeletal growth increment-specific stable isotope analysis was also performed for a sub-set of the humeri, to identify the skeletal growth mark associated with the shift from oceanic to neritic habitat through stable nitrogen isotope (δ15N) values and the presence of turtles in inshore waters. Although the transitional growth mark in this sub-sample corresponded to a range of sizes similar to those described in previous studies, mean size at recruitment (55.3 cm straightline carapace length [SCL]) for these turtles was larger than previously estimated. Similarly, while the range of ages at recruitment—corresponding both with the transitional growth mark and those yielded by fitting smoothing splines to SCL-at-age data—overlapped almost fully with earlier estimates, the mean age estimate (12.4 yr) differed from previous studies. Validated back-calculation of somatic growth rates from skeletal growth marks yielded means and ranges that encompassed those of previous loggerhead growth studies in this geographic area. Generalized additive models and generalized additive mixed models used to assess the potential influence of discrete and continuous covariates on back-calculated growth rates spanning 1984 to 2009 indicated significant effects of age, SCL, calendar year, and δ15N, but none for sex or location.

KEY WORDS: Caretta caretta · Age · Skeletal growth marks · Life history · Ontogenetic habitat shift

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Cite this article as: Avens L, Goshe LR, Pajuelo M, Bjorndal KA and others (2013) Complementary skeletochronology and stable isotope analyses offer new insight into juvenile loggerhead sea turtle oceanic stage duration and growth dynamics. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 491:235-251.

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