Diet analysis of subadult Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles from Sarasota, Florida
Servis, Jennifer Ann
MetadataShow full item record
Understanding the behaviors, life history, and general ecological function of endangered species is crucial to their conservation. The recovery and protection of the endangered Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtle depends upon using ecological information to design a conservation plan, yet little is known about their niche within the marine environment. Diet analyses are a simple, yet powerful method through which this essential information may be obtained. This analysis is particularly relevant to sea turtle biologists because it provides information about subadult individuals, which have been studied to a lesser extent than nesting females and hatchlings, due to their relative inaccessibility from land. Moreover, coupling the size and maturity stage with the diets of subadult turtles allows researchers to further understand their life history. This study analyzes the diets of twenty deceased subadult Kemp’s ridley sea turtles stranded in or near Sarasota County from 2005‐2012. During necropsy, the stomach contents were extracted and all prey items were identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible. Calico, stone, and blue crabs were the major prey taxa consumed by the Kemp’s ridleys, respectively. Additionally, to reveal any possible dietary changes between maturity stages, the twenty turtles were separated into two size classes based on carapace length. The diets of the smaller, less mature turtles were significantly different (p=0.028; F=1.549; df=1) than those of the larger turtles, suggesting variation in habitat preference and/or use throughout ontogeny. This diet analysis serves as a starting point for detailed studies aiming to further elucidate the complexities of this sea turtle’s life history and ecological function.