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Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) diving changes with productivity, behavioral mode, and sea surface temperature

August 7, 2019

The relationship between dive behavior and oceanographic conditions is not well understood for marine predators, especially sea turtles. We tagged loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) with satellite-linked depth loggers in the Gulf of Mexico, where there is a minimal amount of dive data for this species. We tested for associations between four measurements of dive behavior (total daily dive frequency, frequency of dives to the bottom, frequency of long dives and time-at-depth) and both oceanographic conditions (sea surface temperature [SST], net primary productivity [NPP]) and behavioral mode (inter-nesting, migration, or foraging). From 2011–2013 we obtained 26 tracks from 25 adult female loggerheads tagged after nesting in the Gulf of Mexico. All turtles remained in the Gulf of Mexico and spent about 10% of their time at the surface (10% during inter-nesting, 14% during migration, 9% during foraging). Mean total dive frequency was 41.9 times per day. Most dives were ≤ 25 m and between 30–40 min. During inter-nesting and foraging, turtles dived to the bottom 95% of days. SST was an important explanatory variable for all dive patterns; higher SST was associated with more dives per day, more long dives and more dives to the seafloor. Increases in NPP were associated with more long dives and more dives to the bottom, while lower NPP resulted in an increased frequency of overall diving. Longer dives occurred more frequently during migration and a higher proportion of dives reached the seafloor during foraging when SST and NPP were higher. Our study stresses the importance of the interplay between SST and foraging resources for influencing dive behavior.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) diving changes with productivity, behavioral mode, and sea surface temperature
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0220372
Authors Autumn Iverson, Ikuko Fujisaki, Margaret M. Lamont, Kristen Hart
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Series Number
Index ID 70204917
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center