Migratory marine turtles are extremely difficult to track between their feeding and nesting areas, and the link between juvenile and adult habitats is generally unknown. To assess the composition of a feeding ground (FG) population of juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas Linnaeus), mitochondrial DNA control region sequences were examined in 80 post-pelagic individuals (straight carapace length = 31 to 67 cm) sampled in September 1992 from Great Inagua, Bahamas, and compared to those of 194 individuals from nine Atlantic and Mediterranean nesting colonies. Evidence from genetic markers, haplotype frequencies, and maximum likelihood (ML) analyses are concordant in indicating that multiple colonies contribute to the Bahamian FG population. ML analyses suggested that most Bahamian FG juveniles originated in the western (79.5%) and eastern (12.9%) Caribbean regions, and these proportions are roughly comparable to the size of candidate rookeries. These data support a life-cycle model in which individuals become pooled in post-hatchling (pelagic) and juvenile (benthic) habitats as a consequence of ocean currents and movement among FGs. A substantial harvest of immature turtles on their feeding pastures will influence the reproductive success of contributing nesting populations over a wide geographic scale.
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