Project title: Linking Feeding Ecology and Population Dynamics in Sea Turtles: From Genes to Ecosystems
Summary: Feeding ecology strategies are arguably the most important contributors to individual fitness. However, understanding these complex strategies requires the incorporation of innovative techniques over various spatial and temporal scales. In general, little is known about the relative contribution of these environmental and genetic drivers of feeding ecology. For endangered marine species, this knowledge gap extends to the characterization of feeding grounds and their designation into marine protected areas for efficient conservation programmes. Focusing on loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) over a series of complementary studies, I will characterize individual foraging specialization, explore local feeding ecology, and determine the relative contribution of environmental and genetic determinisms (maternal lineages) on feeding strategies and population dynamics. I will use state-of-the-art movement tags, stable isotope analysis, and statistical modelling to achieve these goals. My work will further explore the relationship between individual strategy and population dynamics. The importance of this association lies in the effect of foraging ecosystem condition on species movement patterns and the energetics of reproductive investment, which affects frequency of breeding and population size. Improving our understanding of individual specialization in complex environments, whether environmentally or genetically determined, will better equip us to conserve this vulnerable species in a changing world.