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An underwater Serengeti: Seagrass-mediated effects on intake and cultivation grazing behavior of a marine megaherbivore

Citation

Gulick, Alexandra et al. (2022), An underwater Serengeti: Seagrass-mediated effects on intake and cultivation grazing behavior of a marine megaherbivore, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.g4f4qrfsx

Abstract

Populations of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), a megaherbivore that consumes seagrasses via cultivation grazing, are recovering worldwide. Information on plant-mediated effects on herbivore foraging behavior is critical to understanding plant-herbivore interactions and sustainability of grazing as ecosystems continue to change. In a Caribbean seagrass ecosystem, we use stationary cameras and benthic surveys to evaluate effects of seagrass morphology and leaf nitrogen content on green turtle grazing behavior. Thalassia testudinum leaf morphology has significant effects on forage intake (mg dry mass [DM] min-1) for green turtles, whereas leaf nitrogen content has no effect. Intake increases in grazed areas with shorter leaves and higher leaf biomass concentration (mg DM cm-3), indicating more efficient foraging under these conditions. Bite rate (bites min-1) increases in grazed areas with short leaves, a result of reduced search time. Bite size (mg DM bite-1) increases in grazed areas with short but dense canopies, because a turtle crops more shoots with each bite. Increased foraging efficiency and reduced search time in grazed areas with high biomass concentrations collectively maximize intake. Ingested leaves are shorter than the mean height of all available leaves in grazed areas, indicating herbivore selection for shorter leaves. Our estimate for daily intake is 86.1 g DM d-1 per 33-kg turtle. Our study provides a novel contribution on the effects of plant-level cues on the grazing behavior of a marine megaherbivore, and how cultivation grazing behavior optimizes the green turtle foraging strategy by maximizing foraging efficiency and intake.

Methods

Please refer to the corresponding publication for detailed methodology.

Usage Notes

Please refer to attached Readme.txt file

Funding

National Park Service

PADI Foundation

Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research

University of Florida

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center