Trophic ecology of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica: integrating esophageal lavage and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analysis
Fonseca, Luis G.
A. Seminoff, Jeffrey
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), considered Critically Endangered, have several small populations in the Eastern Pacific (EP). Knowledge about their diet and habitat use can aid in developing conservation strategies and promoting population recovery in the region. Although considered a spongivore in the Caribbean, data from the EP region indicate that hawksbills consume a wide array of prey species, including angiosperms. We used two approaches to study the diet of hawksbills at Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica: oesophageal lavage and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analysis of bulk skin tissue and blood plasma. Lavage samples collected from 41 turtles revealed macroalgae as the predominant diet item (Rw = 20.22), followed by sea snails and excavating worms. Stable isotope values for blood plasma from 44 turtles ranged from -23.0‰ to -15.7‰ for δ13C and 6.9‰ to 10.4‰ for δ15N, whereas values for skin tissue were -20.4‰ to -13.9‰ and 9.3‰ to 11.0‰ for δ13C and δ15N, respectively. We compared these isotope values with those of five potential prey groups (sponge, sea snail, excavating worm, mangrove, macroalgae) using a multisource stable isotope mixing model analysis in R (SIAR). Our results indicated that multiple prey resources are important for hawksbills in Golfo Dulce, where sea snails, sponges and excavating worms contributed up to 63% of the assimilated diet per individual, and mangrove and macroalgae up to 50%. These data show that hawksbills in Golfo Dulce, and perhaps the wider EP region, are omnivorous, underscoring the importance for considering alternative habitats, aside of coral reefs, for its management and restoration.