Inter-Research > MEPS > v608 > p247-262  

MEPS 608:247-262 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12796

Reconstructing sea turtle ontogenetic habitat shifts through trace element analysis of bone tissue

Matthew D. Ramirez1,*, Jessica A. Miller2, Eric Parks3, Larisa Avens4, Lisa R. Goshe4, Jeffrey A. Seminoff5, Melissa L. Snover6, Selina S. Heppell1

1Oregon State University, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA
2Oregon State University, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA
3AmeriCorps VISTA, Chatham Emergency Management Agency, Savannah, Georgia 31401, USA
4NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Beaufort Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
5NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
6Population Ecology Services, Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Trace element analysis has emerged as a powerful tool to elucidate past movement and habitat use in aquatic animals, but has been underutilized in studies of non-fish species. When applied to sequentially deposited tissues (e.g. fish otoliths, sea turtle humerus bone), the technique can be used to infer aspects of an individual’s ecology through time. The goal of this study was to evaluate whether trace elements could be used to reconstruct transitions between oceanic and neritic life stages in 2 species of sea turtle. We sampled the annual humerus bone growth layers of loggerhead Caretta caretta and Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii sea turtles for concentrations of 7 elements (Mg, Ca, Mn, Cu, Zn, Sr, Ba) using laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. Previous studies have demonstrated that stable nitrogen isotope (δ15N) values can be used to reconstruct ontogenetic shifts between oceanic (offshore) and neritic (nearshore) habitats in these species; therefore, bone δ15N data were also collected for comparison. Bone strontium to calcium (Sr:Ca) and barium to calcium (Ba:Ca) ratios were significantly higher in oceanic versus neritic life stages for both species. Changes in bone elemental ratios within individuals coincided with known changes in resource use, as indicated by δ15N values, and fell within the range of body sizes and ages typical for oceanic-to-neritic ontogenetic shifts in each species. We conclude that bone Sr:Ca and Ba:Ca ratios may identify oceanic versus neritic resource use in sea turtles, but that additional studies are needed to identify the specific mechanisms underpinning these differences.


KEY WORDS: Barium · Strontium · Stable nitrogen isotopes · Habitat use · Sea turtle · Migration · Bone chemistry


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Cite this article as: Ramirez MD, Miller JA, Parks E, Avens L and others (2019) Reconstructing sea turtle ontogenetic habitat shifts through trace element analysis of bone tissue. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 608:247-262. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12796

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