The Role of Green Sea Turtle Foraging Habits in Structuring Marine Communities
Kate McFadden, Clemson University
14 Sept 2012
While we know that sea turtles likely structure marine communities through herbivory, nutrient cycling, and energy transport, it has traditionally been difficult to quantify the ecological role of sea turtles and what it would mean for marine communities when they are absent. In order to better understand the ecological role of sea turtles, we first need basic ecological data on habitat and resource utilization, data which can be gleaned in part, from understanding the relationship between their foraging habits and habitat utilization. This study sought to examine the relationship between algal community structure and green sea turtle feeding habits at a relatively pristine region of the Central Pacific at Palmyra Atoll. Intertidal habitat surveys were conducted from 2006-2010 to quantify the percent algal cover, species makeup, species diversity, and community structure throughout Palmyra’s waters. Gastric contents from captured sea turtles and tissue samples were collected from sea turtles and results indicate that 60% of the diet was made up of only 5 species of algae. The analysis of esophaegeal contents indicates probable movement between multiple sites within the atoll. Higher algal species richness was found in areas with the highest sea turtle densities, which suggest that the presence of high densities of sea turtles in an area, may positively impact algal species richness.
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