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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 595:203-215 (2018)  -  DOI:

Foraging behavior of juvenile loggerhead sea turtles in the open ocean: from Lévy exploration to area-restricted search

Carla Freitas1,2,*, Rui Caldeira1, Jesus Reis1, Thomas Dellinger3,4

1Oceanic Observatory of Madeira, Agência Regional para o Desenvolvimento da Investigação Tecnologia e Inovação, 9020-105 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
2MARE - Marine and Environmental Sciences Center, 9020 - 105 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
3Laboratório de Biologia Marinha e Oceanografia, Universidade da Madeira, 9000-107 Funchal-Madeira, Portugal
4CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Most sea turtle species spend part of, or their entire juvenile stage in pelagic habitats. A key question is how pelagic turtles exploit their environment to optimize prey intake and maximize fitness. This study combined animal telemetry with remote-sensed environmental data to quantify the drivers and patterns of foraging behavior of juvenile loggerhead sea turtles in the pelagic eastern North Atlantic. Juveniles ranged in size from 34 to 58 cm straight carapace length. First-passage time (FPT) analysis, used to quantify search effort, indicated that turtles performed area-restricted searches at nested spatial scales of 10 and 50 to 200 km. High-usage areas, as quantified by FPT, were associated with increased dive activity and weak surface currents, as well as with oceanographic features (high chlorophyll a and shallower bathymetry) thought to stimulate prey availability. Conversely, low-usage areas (i.e. transit areas) were associated with deep, probably exploratory dives, typical from Lévy movement patterns. Further interpretation of dive data indicates greater dive activity in shallow depths (0 to 10 m) during the night and during transit. Conversely, greater activity at intermediate depths (10 to 50 m) was observed during daytime, under strong lunar illumination and in high-usage areas, suggesting these depths are major daytime foraging layers. This study clarifies the foraging ecology of sea turtles during their development phase in the open sea, providing evidence that these pelagic predators can adjust their foraging strategies and effort in response to the local conditions of their dynamic environment.

KEY WORDS: Argos · Biologging · Caretta caretta · Dive histograms · Satellite telemetry

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Cite this article as: Freitas C, Caldeira R, Reis J, Dellinger T, (2018) Foraging behavior of juvenile loggerhead sea turtles in the open ocean: from Lévy exploration to area-restricted search. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 595:203-215.

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