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Regional and annual variation in plasma steroids and metabolic indicators in female green turtles, Chelonia mydas
journal contributionposted on 2005-12-01, 00:00 authored by M Hamann, Tim Jessop, C J Limpus, J M Whittier
Variation in environmental conditions at a foraging area or at a nesting rookery has the potential to impact reproductive output of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) by affecting food resources or the nesting substrate. In this paper we test whether turtles' physiological characteristics reflect variation in relevant environmental conditions. We did this by profiling metabolic and hormonal markers among (1) non-vitellogenic females from three different foraging areas and (2) nesting females from different rookeries and breeding seasons. Among the non-vitellogenic females, the highest plasma triglyceride concentrations (4.29 mmol/l) and the lowest plasma cholesterol concentrations (1.27 mmol/l) were found in non-vitellogenic females residing in Moreton Bay during the El Niño year of 1997. Furthermore, during 1997, these Moreton Bay females had higher plasma triglyceride and lower cholesterol concentrations than those recorded in non-vitellogenic females foraging at Heron Reef (triglyceride 1.22 mmol/l and cholesterol 4.53 mmol/l) and Shoalwater Bay (triglyceride 1.69 mmol/l and cholesterol 3.50 mmol/l) in the same year. Among nesting turtles, those nesting at Raine Island had low mean plasma triglyceride concentrations during the high density 1996 nesting season. For those nesting at Heron Island, the mean triglyceride concentrations were the lowest during the 1997 nesting season. This is the first time that hormone and metabolic markers have been used in concert to compare the physiological condition of nesting and foraging sea turtles and its relationship with the environment. Collectively, our data indicate that variation in the environmental conditions at both foraging and nesting areas are reflected at a physiological level. Moreover, our study indicates that turtles feeding during El Niño years are able to attain higher levels of body condition, and that physiological data combined with morphometric data is a useful proxy for assessing the condition of turtles in foraging areas.