Unravelling migratory connectivity in marine turtles using multiple methods

Authors


Correspondence author. E-mail: b.j.godley@exeter.ac.uk

Summary

1. Comprehensive knowledge of the fundamental spatial ecology of marine species is critical to allow the identification of key habitats and the likely sources of anthropogenic threats, thus informing effective conservation strategies.

2. Research on migratory marine vertebrates has lagged behind many similar terrestrial animal groups, but studies using electronic tagging systems and molecular techniques offer great insights.

3. Marine turtles have complex life history patterns, spanning wide spatio-temporal scales. As a result of this multidimensional complexity, and despite extensive effort, there are no populations for which a truly holistic understanding of the spatial aspects of the life history has been attained. There is a particular lack of information regarding the distribution and habitats utilized during the first few years of life.

4. We used satellite tracking technology to track individual turtles following nesting at the green turtle Chelonia mydas nesting colony at Poilão Island, Guinea Bissau; the largest breeding aggregation in the eastern Atlantic.

5. We further contextualize these data with pan-Atlantic molecular data and oceanographic current modelling to gain insights into likely dispersal patterns of hatchlings and small pelagic juveniles.

6. All adult turtles remained in the waters of West Africa, with strong connectivity demonstrated with Banc D’Arguin, Mauritania.

7. Despite shortcomings in current molecular markers, we demonstrate evidence for profound sub-structuring of marine turtle stocks across the Atlantic; with a high likelihood based on oceanographic modelling that most turtles from Guinea-Bissau are found in the eastern Atlantic.

8.Synthesis and applications. There is an increased need for a better understanding of spatial distribution of marine vertebrates demonstrating life histories with spatio-temporal complexity. We propose the synergistic use of the technologies and modelling used here as a working framework for the future rapid elucidation of the range and likely key habitats used by the different life stages from such species.

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