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14 June 2018 Comparing Diets of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) in Mangrove Estuaries of Southwest Florida
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Abstract

We quantified diets of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) in Charlotte Harbor National Estuary, Florida, to identify possible ontogenetic variation in prey consumption, to examine the use of local prey, and to contrast the diets of conspecifics at other foraging areas. Dietary analysis was conducted by identifying prey remains recovered in 58 fecal samples from 53 turtles (24.2–63.7 cm midline straight carapace length). Turtles consumed seven prey categories: crustaceans, chelicerates, fish, sessile invertebrates, molluscs, plants/algae, and unidentified items. Spider crabs (Libinia sp.) are the dominant prey consumed in the mangrove estuary, occurring in 94.8% of fecal samples, accounting for 71.4% of dry mass, and as 76.3% in the Index of Relative Importance. We found no significant ontogenetic differences in prey composition between small (<40 cm) and large (≥40 cm) turtles, although crustaceans were more prevalent in diets of the larger turtles. The prey consumed in Charlotte Harbor differed significantly from a similar study of a nearby mangrove estuary in the Ten Thousand Islands. Sandy-Skinned Tunicates (Molgula occidentalis) were the predominant food item in the latter locale, and there were no significant ontogenetic differences in prey composition. A comparison of prey availability and use suggests that Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles ingested the most abundant prey in the Charlotte Harbor estuary. Geographic differences in diet may reflect localized differences in use of foraging habitat and available prey, but more studies are needed on the availability, use, and selection of both habitat and prey.

Copyright 2018 Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Jeffrey R. Schmid and Anton D. Tucker "Comparing Diets of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) in Mangrove Estuaries of Southwest Florida," Journal of Herpetology 52(3), (14 June 2018). https://doi.org/10.1670/16-164
Accepted: 3 February 2018; Published: 14 June 2018
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