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Stable isotope discrimination factors and between-tissue isotope comparisons for bone and skin from captive and wild green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

  • Author(s): Turner Tomaszewicz, Calandra N
  • Seminoff, Jeffrey A
  • Price, Mike
  • Kurle, Carolyn M
  • et al.

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The ecological application of stable isotope analysis (SIA) relies on taxa- and tissue-specific stable carbon (Δ13 C) and nitrogen (Δ15 N) isotope discrimination factors, determined with captive animals reared on known diets for sufficient time to reflect dietary isotope ratios. However, captive studies often prohibit lethal sampling, are difficult with endangered species, and reflect conditions not experienced in the wild.


We overcame these constraints and determined the Δ13 C and Δ15 N values for skin and cortical bone from green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) that died in captivity and evaluated the utility of a mathematical approach to predict discrimination factors. Using stable carbon (δ13 C values) and nitrogen (δ15 N values) isotope ratios from captive and wild turtles, we established relationships between bone stable isotope (SI) ratios and those from skin, a non-lethally sampled tissue, to facilitate comparisons of SI ratios among studies using multiple tissues.


The mean (±SD) Δ13 C and Δ15 N values (‰) between skin and bone from captive turtles and their diet (non-lipid-extracted) were 2.3 ± 0.3 and 4.1 ± 0.4 and 2.1 ± 0.6 and 5.1 ± 1.1, respectively. The mathematically predicted Δ13 C and Δ15 N values were similar (to within 1‰) to the experimentally derived values. The mean δ15 N values from bone were higher than those from skin for captive (+1.0 ± 0.9‰) and wild (+0.8 ± 1.0‰) turtles; the mean δ13 C values from bone were lower than those from skin for wild turtles (-0.6 ± 0.9‰), but the same as for captive turtles. We used linear regression equations to describe bone vs skin relationships and create bone-to-skin isotope conversion equations.


For sea turtles, we provide the first (a) bone-diet SI discrimination factors, (b) comparison of SI ratios from individual-specific bone and skin, and (c) evaluation of the application of a mathematical approach to predict stable isotope discrimination factors. Our approach opens the door for future studies comparing different tissues, and relating SI ratios of captive to wild animals.

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