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MEPS 555:235-248 (2016)  -  DOI:

Inter-nesting behavioural adjustments of green turtles to an estuarine habitat in French Guiana

Philippine Chambault1,2,*, Benoît de Thoisy3, Laurent Kelle4, Rachel Berzins5, Marc Bonola1,2, Hélène Delvaux6, Yvon Le Maho1,2, Damien Chevallier1,2

1Université de Strasbourg, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg cedex 2, France
2CNRS, UMR 7178, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg cedex 2, France
3Association Kwata, 16 avenue Pasteur, BP 672, 97335 Cayenne cedex, France
4WWF Guyane, N°5 Lotissement Katoury, 97300 Cayenne, France
5Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage-Cellule technique Guyane, Campus agronomique, BP 316, 97379 Kourou cedex, France
6DEAL Guyane, Route du Vieux-Port, BP 603, 97328 Cayenne cedex, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles adjust their behaviour according to the conditions of their habitat, thus saving or gaining energy during the energetically costly inter-nesting season. This study aimed to investigate how gravid green turtles Chelonia mydas nesting in Suriname and French Guiana have adapted to the unusual habitat of the Maroni River estuary, which has highly turbid and low salinity waters and a priori lacks seagrass, one of the main foods consumed by this species. Satellite telemetry was used to assess the behavioural adjustments of 26 adult females in terms of (1) home range and (2) diving behaviour, by recording the movements (location, dive depth, dive duration, surface duration) and environmental conditions (temperature and salinity of the water) experienced by each individual. The turtles exhibited limited movements, occupying a core home range of 512.7 km2 and remaining close to the shore (3.8 ± 3.1 km) and the nesting beach (18.6 ± 22.7 km). Dive data showed that individuals spent extended periods at the surface (210 ± 288 min), probably associated with diurnal resting activity. The turtles performed uncharacteristically short and shallow dives (<5 min and <2 m) which could result from lung volume issues linked to positive buoyancy. This species shows a unique ability to tolerate extreme environments in this inter-nesting habitat, where large river outputs generate warm water (~27 to 29°C) and highly variable salinities (range: 1.2 to 35.5 psu). These results highlight the various behavioural adjustments of this population in response to the atypical and estuarine habitat of the Maroni river mouth.

KEY WORDS: Chelonia mydas · Guiana coast · Habitat use · Diving behaviour · Satellite tracking

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Cite this article as: Chambault P, de Thoisy B, Kelle L, Berzins R and others (2016) Inter-nesting behavioural adjustments of green turtles to an estuarine habitat in French Guiana. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 555:235-248.

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