Atlantic leatherback migratory paths and temporary residence areas.

Abstract : BACKGROUND: Sea turtles are long-distance migrants with considerable behavioural plasticity in terms of migratory patterns, habitat use and foraging sites within and among populations. However, for the most widely migrating turtle, the leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea, studies combining data from individuals of different populations are uncommon. Such studies are however critical to better understand intra- and inter-population variability and take it into account in the implementation of conservation strategies of this critically endangered species. Here, we investigated the movements and diving behaviour of 16 Atlantic leatherback turtles from three different nesting sites and one foraging site during their post-breeding migration to assess the potential determinants of intra- and inter-population variability in migratory patterns. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using satellite-derived behavioural and oceanographic data, we show that turtles used Temporary Residence Areas (TRAs) distributed all around the Atlantic Ocean: 9 in the neritic domain and 13 in the oceanic domain. These TRAs did not share a common oceanographic determinant but on the contrary were associated with mesoscale surface oceanographic features of different types (i.e., altimetric features and/or surface chlorophyll a concentration). Conversely, turtles exhibited relatively similar horizontal and vertical behaviours when in TRAs (i.e., slow swimming velocity/sinuous path/shallow dives) suggesting foraging activity in these productive regions. Migratory paths and TRAs distribution showed interesting similarities with the trajectories of passive satellite-tracked drifters, suggesting that the general dispersion pattern of adults from the nesting sites may reflect the extent of passive dispersion initially experienced by hatchlings. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Intra- and inter-population behavioural variability may therefore be linked with initial hatchling drift scenarios and be highly influenced by environmental conditions. This high degree of behavioural plasticity in Atlantic leatherback turtles makes species-targeted conservation strategies challenging and stresses the need for a larger dataset (>100 individuals) for providing general recommendations in terms of conservation.
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Submitted on : Friday, November 26, 2010 - 10:29:48 AM
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Sabrina Fossette, Charlotte Girard, Milagros López-Mendilaharsu, Philip Miller, Andrés Domingo, et al.. Atlantic leatherback migratory paths and temporary residence areas.. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2010, 5 (11), pp.e13908. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0013908⟩. ⟨hal-00540210⟩



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