Thursday, 7 December 2017

Important foraging hotspots for loggerhead turtle rookery identified

December 4, 2017

UCF alumna Simona Ceriani today published a new study that finds sea turtles are what they eat - but where they eat may be even more important.

Ceriani, who is a tenured research scientist with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, collaborated with three UCF Department of Biology researchers on the study, published in Scientific Reports.

"Where you eat and what you eat matters for humans and we found that it does, in fact, matter for turtles," Ceriani said. "We found that females who eat in southern areas tend to have more offspring."

During a nine-year period, the scientists examined chemical signatures of more than 700 loggerhead turtles, which nest at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge south of Melbourne. Coupled with GPS tracking, the team was able to map the signatures across the western Atlantic Ocean from the waters off Nova Scotia to the Yucatán.

Florida is one of the major nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles in the United States. The Carr refuge accounts for 14 percent of the loggerhead nests in the northwest Atlantic, which is the largest subpopulation in the world.

The study showed that most Carr female loggerheads do not leave the coastal waters that fall under the U.S. jurisdiction. However, the foraging areas where the refuge nesters migrate from vary from year to year. Turtles spend 99 percent of their time in the water, so tracking their whereabouts can prove difficult. The chemical analysis costs $10 per turtle compared to $2,000 to $5,000 required for individual GPS tracking.

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