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Role of ingesta particle size in the green turtle grazing strategy, ontogenetic diet shifts, and responses to seagrass declines

September 24, 2021

Populations of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), a mega-herbivore that consumes seagrasses, are recovering worldwide. Understanding green turtle adaptations to herbivory and responses to changes in seagrass availability will be critical to interpreting plant–herbivore interactions as green turtle populations continue to rebound. Ingesta particle size and diet composition of two green turtle foraging aggregations (Bermuda, 32.3° N, 64.8° W; U.S. Virgin Islands [USVI], 17.8° N, 64.6° W) in the Northwest Atlantic (NWA) were evaluated to assess the prevalence of herbivory across foraging sites and life stages, determine if there is an optimum ingesta particle size, and evaluate green turtle responses to changes in seagrass availability. Both aggregations were herbivorous (> 90% seagrass/algae) across size classes (straight carapace length, SCL). Ingesta particle size (mean ± SD) did not differ between Bermuda (2.6 ± 1.4 cm) and the USVI (2.3 ± 1.2 cm). Of seagrass leaves ingested, 20–30% were 1.7 cm in length, indicating a potential optimum for maximizing digestion rates. Turtle size (SCL) had a significant effect on particle size in Bermuda (p = 0.01, R2 = 0.16) (35.1 ± 9.9 cm SCL) but not in the USVI aggregation, which was comprised of larger turtles (49.0 ± 6.1 cm SCL). In Bermuda, there was no apparent response to the declines in seagrass availability. Ingesta particle size and volume of seagrass leaves did not decline from 2015 to 2019, nor was there an increase in volume of seagrass roots and rhizomes. These results indicate herbivory is prevalent across size classes at two NWA foraging sites and ingesta particle size has important implications for optimizing the green turtle grazing strategy and facilitating ontogenetic diet shifts to herbivory in juveniles. Ingesta particle size is a valuable tool for assessing green turtle responses to seagrass declines that should be interpreted within the context of population demographics.

Publication Year 2021
Title Role of ingesta particle size in the green turtle grazing strategy, ontogenetic diet shifts, and responses to seagrass declines
DOI 10.1007/s00227-021-03965-1
Authors Alexandra G. Gulick, Anne B. Meylan, Peter A. Meylan, Kristen Hart, Jennifer A. Gray, Gaelle Roth, Alan B. Bolten, Karen A. Bjorndal
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Biology
Index ID 70239350
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center