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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 519:195-207 (2015)  -  DOI:

Oceanic loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta associate with thermal fronts: evidence from the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem

Kylie L. Scales1,*, Peter I. Miller1, Nuria Varo-Cruz2, David. J. Hodgson3, Lucy A. Hawkes3, Brendan J. Godley3

1Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK
2Departamento de Biología, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Campus de Tafira,
35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain
3Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn TR10 9FE, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Oceanographic fronts are physical interfaces between water masses that differ in properties such as temperature, salinity, turbidity and chlorophyll a enrichment. Bio-physical coupling along fronts can lead to the development of pelagic biodiversity hotspots. A diverse range of marine vertebrates have been shown to associate with fronts, using them as foraging and migration habitats. Elucidation of the ecological significance of fronts generates a better understanding of marine ecosystem functioning, conferring opportunities to improve management of anthropogenic activities in the oceans. This study presents novel insights into the oceanographic drivers of habitat use in a population of marine turtles characterised by an oceanic-neritic foraging dichotomy. Using satellite tracking data from adult female loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta nesting at Cape Verde (n = 12), we tested the hypothesis that oceanic-foraging loggerheads associate with mesocale (10s to 100s of km) thermal fronts. We used high-resolution (1 km) composite front mapping to characterise frontal activity in the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem over 2 temporal scales: (1) seasonal front frequency and (2) 7 d front metrics. Our use-availability analysis indicated that oceanic loggerheads show a preference for the highly productive upwelling region between Cape Verde and mainland Africa, an area of intense frontal activity. Within the upwelling region, turtles appear to forage epipelagically around mesoscale thermal fronts, exploiting profitable foraging opportunities resulting from physical aggregation of prey.

KEY WORDS: Oceanographic front · Composite front mapping · Remote sensing · Sea turtle · Pelagic habitat · Foraging · Satellite telemetry

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Cite this article as: Scales KL, Miller PI, Varo-Cruz N, Hodgson DJ, Hawkes LA, Godley BJ (2015) Oceanic loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta associate with thermal fronts: evidence from the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 519:195-207.

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