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Evidence from genetic and Lagrangian drifter data for transatlantic transport of small juvenile green turtles

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Abstract Aim 

A key life-history component for many animals is the need for movement between different geographical locations at particular times. Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) hatchlings disperse from their natal location to spend an early pelagic stage in the ocean, followed by a neritic stage where small juveniles settle in coastal areas. In this study, we combined genetic and Lagrangian drifter data to investigate the connectivity between natal and foraging locations. In particular we focus on the evidence for transatlantic transport. Location 

Atlantic Ocean. Methods 

We used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences (n =1567) from foraging groups (n =8) and nesting populations (n =12) on both sides of the Atlantic. Genetic data were obtained for Cape Verde juvenile turtles, a foraging group not previously sampled for genetic study. Various statistical methods were used to explore spatial genetics and population genetic structure (e.g. exact tests of differentiation, Genelandand analysis of molecular variance). Many-to-many mixed stock analysis estimated the connectivity between nesting and foraging groups. Results 

Our key new finding is robust evidence for connectivity between a nesting population on the South American coast (25% of the Surinam nesting population are estimated to go to Cape Verde) and a foraging group off the coast of West Africa (38% of Cape Verde juveniles are estimated to originate from Surinam), thus extending the results of previous investigations by confirming that there is substantial transatlantic dispersal in both directions. Lagrangian drifter data demonstrated that transport by drift across the Atlantic within a few years is possible. Main conclusions 

Small juvenile green turtles seem capable of dispersing extensively, and can drop out of the pelagic phase on a transatlantic scale (the average distance between natal and foraging locations was 3048 km). Nevertheless, we also find support for the ‘closest-to-home’ hypothesis in that the degree of contribution from a nesting population to a foraging group is correlated with proximity. Larger-sized turtles appear to feed closer to their natal breeding grounds (the average distance was 1133 km), indicating that those that have been initially transported to far-flung foraging grounds may still be able to move nearer to home as they grow larger.
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Keywords: Atlantic Ocean; Chelonia mydas; buoy trajectory data; foraging grounds; geographical connectivity; landscape genetics; mitochondrial DNA; mixed stock analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Biología, Universidad de Las Palmas de G.C. Campus de Tafira, 35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria, Spain 2: Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), Américo Vespucio, s/n, 41092 Sevilla, Spain 3: Naturalia, Cape Verde Ltd., Sal-Rei, Boa Vista, Republic of Cape Verde 4: Department of Pure and Applied Ecology, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

Publication date: 01 September 2010

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