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The Gulf Stream frontal system: A key oceanographic feature in the habitat selection of the leatherback turtle?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Meteorology .
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Number of Authors: 12
2017 (English)In: Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, ISSN 0967-0637, E-ISSN 1879-0119, Vol. 123, 35-47 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Although some associations between the leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea and the Gulf Stream current have been previously suggested, no study has to date demonstrated strong affinities between leatherback movements and this particular frontal system using thorough oceanographic data in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. The importance of the Gulf Stream frontal system in the selection of high residence time (HRT) areas by the North Atlantic leatherback turtle is assessed here for the first time using state-of-the-art ocean reanalysis products. Ten adult females from the Eastern French Guianese rookery were satellite tracked during post-nesting migration to relate (1) their horizontal movements to physical gradients (Sea Surface Temperature (SST), Sea Surface Height (SSH) and filaments) and biological variables (micronekton and chlorophyll a), and (2) their diving behaviour to vertical structures within the water column (mixed layer, thermocline, halocline and nutricline). All the turtles migrated northward towards the Gulf Stream north wall. Although their HRT areas were geographically remote (spread between 80-30 degrees W and 28-45 degrees N), all the turtles targeted similar habitats in terms of physical structures, i.e. strong gradients of SST, SSH and a deep mixed layer. This close association with the Gulf Stream frontal system highlights the first substantial synchronization ever observed in this species, as the HRTs were observed in close match with the autumn phytoplankton bloom. Turtles remained within the enriched mixed layer at depths of 38.5 +/- 7.9 m when diving in HRT areas, likely to have an easier access to their prey and maximize therefore the energy gain. These depths were shallow in comparison to those attained within the thermocline (82.4 +/- 5.6 m) while crossing the nutrient-poor subtropical gyre, probably to reach cooler temperatures and save energy during the transit. In a context of climate change, anticipating the evolution of such frontal structure under the influence of global warming is crucial to ensure the conservation of this vulnerable species.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017. Vol. 123, 35-47 p.
Keyword [en]
Post-nesting migration, Dermochelys coriacea, North Atlantic, Diving behaviour, Satellite tracking
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-144854DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr.2017.03.003ISI: 000402945900004OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-144854DiVA: diva2:1118198
Available from: 2017-06-30 Created: 2017-06-30 Last updated: 2017-06-30Bibliographically approved

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Roquet, FabienPauthenet, Etienne
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