Complexity and variation in loggerhead sea turtle life history

Catherine M McClellan, Andrew J Read

Abstract

Juvenile loggerhead sea turtles spend more than a decade in the open ocean before returning to neritic waters to mature and reproduce. It has been assumed that this transition from an oceanic to neritic existence is a discrete ontogenetic niche shift. We tested this hypothesis by tracking the movements of large juveniles collected in a neritic foraging ground in North Carolina, USA. Our work shows that the shift from the oceanic to neritic waters is both complex and reversible; some individuals move back into coastal waters and then return to the open ocean for reasons that are still unclear, sometimes for multiple years. These findings have important consequences for efforts to protect these threatened marine reptiles from mortality in both coastal and open-ocean fisheries.

Footnotes

    • Received July 6, 2007.
    • Accepted July 19, 2007.
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