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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Habitat models and assessment of habitat partitioning for Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead marine turtles foraging in Chesapeake Bay

Andrew DiMatteo*, Gwen Lockhart, Susan Barco

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding the spatial distribution of a species is required to enact effective conservation. Complications to effective conservation can arise when the distributions of multiple target species are non-overlapping. Conservation efforts meant to protect one species may shift threats into the distribution of another species. Two species of marine turtle, the loggerhead Caretta caretta and the Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii, are common seasonally in the Chesapeake Bay, a large estuary on the east coast of the United States. Both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act and face spatially complex threats in the region. This study creates habitat suitability models for these 2 species to inform conservation efforts in the region and explore the extent of overlap between their distributions. Argos satellite tags were deployed on 24 Kemp’s ridley and 10 loggerhead turtles to record animal locations within the bay. Boosted regression tree models were created for each species using presence only animal locations, predicting suitable habitat within the Bay. Habitat for Kemp’s ridley turtles was predicted in shallow, coastal areas of the southern Bay as well as in brackish areas of rivers. Loggerhead turtle habitat was predicted to extend further north than Kemp’s ridley habitat and was generally found in deeper areas of the middle Bay. There is some evidence that these 2 species are partitioning habitat. Any conservation measures adopted to conserve marine turtles in the Chesapeake Bay should consider the habitat of both species holistically to avoid shifting impacts from one species to another.