Mechanisms that determine how, where, and when ontogenetic habitat shifts occur are mostly unknown in wild populations. Differences in size and environmental characteristics of ontogenetic habitats can lead to differences in movement patterns, behavior, habitat use, and spatial distributions across individuals of the same species. Knowledge of juvenile loggerhead turtles’ dispersal, movements, and habitat use is largely unknown, especially in the Mediterranean Sea. Satellite relay data loggers were used to monitor movements, diving behavior, and water temperature of eleven large juvenile loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) deliberately caught in an oceanic habitat in the Mediterranean Sea. Hidden Markov models were used over 4,430 spatial locations to quantify the different activities performed by each individual: transit, low-, and high-intensity diving. Model results were then analyzed in relation to water temperature, bathymetry, and distance to the coast. The hidden Markov model differentiated between bouts of area-restricted search as low- and high-intensity diving, and transit movements. The turtles foraged in deep oceanic waters within 60 km from the coast as well as above 140 km from the coast. They used an average area of 194,802 km2, where most individuals used the deepest part of the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea with the highest seamounts, while only two switched to neritic foraging showing plasticity in foraging strategies among turtles of similar age classes. The foraging distribution of large juvenile loggerhead turtles, including some which were of the minimum size of adults, in the Tyrrhenian Sea is mainly concentrated in a relatively small oceanic area with predictable mesoscale oceanographic features, despite the proximity of suitable neritic foraging habitats. Our study highlights the importance of collecting high-resolution data about species distribution and behavior across different spatio-temporal scales and life stages for implementing conservation and dynamic ocean management actions.
Chimienti, M., Blasi, M. F., & Hochscheid, S. (2020). Movement patterns of large juvenile loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean Sea: Ontogenetic space use in a small ocean basin. Ecology and Evolution, 10(14), 6978-6992.