Skip to main content

Trophic ecology of green turtle Chelonia mydas juveniles in the Colombian Pacific

  • Laura Sampson (a1), Alan Giraldo (a1), Luis F. Payán (a2), Diego F. Amorocho (a3), Manuel A. Ramos (a4) and Jeffrey A. Seminoff (a5)...

Gorgona National Park (GNP) protects the only known feeding aggregation of juvenile green turtles Chelonia mydas on the Pacific coast of Colombia. This study was undertaken to compare the diet of the two known C. mydas morphotypes (black and yellow), and to determine availability, selectivity, and quality of food resources at GNP. Oesophageal lavages and isotopic analysis of epidermal tissue were performed on turtles captured between February and December 2012. Food quantity was estimated by determining per cent cover in quadrats randomly placed on the reefs. Food quality of algae species was estimated by proximate analysis. Food selection was estimated using Ivlev's electivity index, and the trophic level of sea turtles at GNP was calculated. A total of 30 black (mean = 63.9 cm SCL) and 47 yellow (mean = 54.3 cm SCL) morphotype turtles were lavaged. Eight invertebrate and nine algae food items were identified in oesophageal contents. The most frequently found and abundant items in lavages were terrestrial plants, plastic fibres, invertebrates and algae. A total of 27 items, including 15 algae species, were identified on the reefs, of which Cladophora sp. was selected by black turtles, and Hypnea pannosa and Dictyota sp. were selected by both morphotypes; the latter species had the highest protein and lipid content, and low lignin content. A trophic level of 3.5 for black and 3.4 for yellow turtles was calculated. No significant difference in diet between the two morphotypes could be determined through lavage or isotopic analysis.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: L. Sampson, Grupo de Investigación en Ecología Animal, Universidad del Valle, Calle 13 No. 100-00, Cali, Colombia email:
Hide All
Acevedo-Bueno, C.I., Beltrán-León, B.S. and Caicedo-Tulante, R.A. (2004) Plan básico de manejo 2005–2009 Parque Nacional Natural Gorgona. Cali, Colombia: Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, Dirección Territorial Suroccidente.
Amorocho, D.F., Abreu-Grobois, F.A., Dutton, P.H. and Reina, R.D. (2012) Multiple distant origins for green sea turtles aggregating off Gorgona Island in the Colombian Eastern Pacific. PLoS ONE 7, e31486.
Amorocho, D.F. and Reina, R. (2007) Feeding ecology of the East Pacific green sea turtle Chelonia mydas agassizii at Gorgona National Park, Colombia. Endangered Species Research 3, 4351.
Arthur, E., Boyle, M.C. and Limpus, C.J. (2008) Ontogenetic changes in diet and habitat use in green sea turtle (Chelonida mydas) life history. Marine Ecology Progress Series 362, 303311.
Arthur, K.E. and Balazs, G.H. (2008) A comparison of immature green turtle (Chelonia mydas) diets among seven sites in the main Hawaiian Islands. Pacific Science 62, 205217.
Barrow, L.M., Bjorndal, K.A. and Reich, K.J. (2008) Effects of preservation method on stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values. Physical and Biochemical Zoology 81, 688693.
Bearhop, S., Adams, C.E., Waldron, S., Fuller, R.A. and Macleod, H. (2004) Determining trophic niche width: a novel approach using stable isotope analysis. Journal of Animal Ecology 73, 10071012.
Bjorndal, K.A. (1979) Cellulose digestion and volatile fatty acid production in the green turtle, Chelonia mydas. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 63, 127133.
Bjorndal, K.A., Bolten, A.B. and Chaloupka, M.Y. (2000) Green turtle somatic growth model: evidence for density dependence. Ecological Applications 10, 269282.
Bolten, A.B. (2003) Variation in sea turtle life history patterns: neritic vs oceanic developmental stages. In Lutz, P.L., Musick, J. and Wyneken, J. (eds) The biology of sea turtles, Volume II. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, pp. 243257.
Boyle, M.C. and Limpus, C.J. (2008) The stomach contents of post-hatchling green and loggerhead sea turtles in the southwest Pacific: an insight into habitat association. Marine Biology 155, 233241.
Bula-Meyer, G. (1995) Macroalgas de la Isla de Gorgona (Pacífico Colombiano) con nuevos registros y una explicación de la baja diversidad y biomasa. In Pinto, P. (ed.) La isla de Gorgona, nuevos estudios biológicos. Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia: Instituto de Ciencias Naturales-Museo de Historia Natural, pp. 2345.
Burkholder, D.A., Heithaus, M.R., Thomson, J.A. and Fourqurean, J.W. (2011) Diversity in trophic interactions of green sea turtles Chelonia mydas on a relatively pristine coastal foraging ground. Marine Ecology Progress Series 439, 277293.
Cardona, L., Aguilar, A. and Pazos, L. (2009) Delayed ontogenic dietary shift and high levels of omnivory in green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from the NW coast of Africa. Marine Biology 156, 14871495.
Carrión-Cortez, J.A., Zárate, P. and Seminoff, J.A. (2010) Feeding ecology of the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in the Galapagos Islands. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 90, 10051013.
Cornelisen, C.D., Wing, S.R., Clark, K.L., Bowman, M.H., Frew, R.D. and Hurd, C.L. (2007) Patterns in the δ13C and δ15N signature of Ulva pertusa: interaction between physical gradients and nutrient source pools. Limnology and Oceanography 52, 820832.
Diez, D. and van Dam, R.P. (2002) Habitat effect on hawksbill turtle growth rates on feeding groups at Mona and Monito Islands, Puerto Rico. Marine Ecology Progress Series 234, 301309.
Estrada, J.A., Rice, A.N., Lutcavage, M.E. and Skomal, G.B. (2003) Predicting trophic position in sharks of the north-west Atlantic Ocean using stable isotope analysis. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 83, 13471350.
Fellerhoff, C., Voss, M. and Wantzen, K.M. (2003) Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures of decomposing tropical macrophytes. Aquatic Ecology 37, 361375.
Fernández-García, C., Riosmena-Rodríguez, R., Wysor, B., Tejada, O.L. and Cortés, J. (2011) Checklist of the Pacific marine macroalgae of Central America. Botanica Marina 54, 5373.
Forbes, G.A. (1996) The diet and feeding ecology of the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in an algal-based coral reef community. PhD thesis. James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.
Forbes, G.A. (1999) Diet sampling and diet component analysis. In Eckert, K.L., Bjorndal, K.A., Abreu-Grobois, F.A. and Donnelly, M. (eds) Research and management techniques for the conservation of sea turtles. Washington, DC: IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group Publication, no. 4, pp. 144148.
Giraldo, A., Valencia, B. and Ramírez, D.G. (2014) Isla Gorgona, enclave estratégico para los esfuerzos de conservación en el Pacífico Oriental Tropical. Revista de Biología Tropical 62, 112.
Glynn, P.W., von Prahl, H. and Guhl, F. (1982) Coral reefs of Gorgona Island, Colombia, with special reference to corallivores and their influence on community structure. Anales Institucionales de Investigación Marina de Punta de Betín 12, 185214.
González-Carman, V., Botto, F., Gaitán, E., Albareda, D., Campagna, C. and Mianzan, H. (2014) A jellyfish diet for the herbivorous green turtle Chelonia mydas in the temperate SW Atlantic. Marine Biology 161, 339349.
Guiry, M.D. and Guiry, G.M. (2014) AlgaeBase. Galway: World-wide electronic publication, National University of Ireland. Available at (accessed 13 November 2014).
Heithaus, M.R., McLash, J.J., Frid, A., Dill, L.M. and Marshall, G.J. (2002) Novel insights into green sea turtle behaviour using animal-borne video cameras. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 82, 10491050.
Heppell, S.S., Snover, M.L. and Crowder, L.B. (2003) Sea turtle population ecology. In Lutz, P.L., Musick, J. and Wyneken, J. (eds) The biology of sea turtles, Volume II. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, pp. 275306.
Hobson, K.A., Alisauskas, R.T. and Clark, R.G. (1993) Stable-nitrogen isotope enrichment in avian tissues due to fasting and nutritional stress: implications for isotopic analyses of diet. Condor 95, 388394.
Hyslop, E.J. (1980) Stomach contents analysis – a review of methods and their application. Journal of Fish Biology 17, 411429.
Jardim, A., López-Mendilaharsu, M. and Barros, F. (2015) Demography and foraging ecology of Chelonia mydas on tropical shallow reefs in Bahia, Brazil. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 96, 12951304.
Karasov, W.H. and Martínez del Río, C. (2007) Physiological ecology: how animals process energy, nutrients, and toxins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Litvaitis, J.A. (2000) Investigating food habits of terrestrial vertebrates. In Boitani, L. and Fuller, T.K. (eds) Research techniques in animal ecology: controversies and consequences. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, pp. 165190.
López-Mendilaharsu, M., Gardner, S.C., Seminoff, J.A. and Riosmena-Rodríguez, R. (2005) Identifying critical foraging habitats of the green turtles (Chelonia mydas) along the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula, Mexico. Aquatic Conservation: Marine Freshwater Ecosystems 15, 259269.
MacArthur, R.H. and Pianka, E.R. (1966) On optimal use of a patchy environment. American Naturalist 100, 603609.
Magalhaes, M., dos, S., Barsante Santos, A.J., da Silva, N.B. and de Moura, C.E.B. (2012) Anatomy of the digestive tube of sea turtles (Reptilia: Testudines). Zoologia 29, 7076.
Manly, B.F.J., McDonald, L.L., Thomas, D.L., McDonald, T.L. and Erickson, W.P. (2002) Resource selection by animals. Statistical design and analysis for field studies. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher.
Márquez, M.R. (1990) An annotated and illustrated catalogue of sea turtle species known to date. FAO Fish 125, 181.
Mortimer, J.A. (1981) The feeding ecology of the West Caribbean green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in Nicaragua. Biotropica 13, 4958.
Murillo-Muñoz, M. and Peña-Salamanca, E.J. (2014) Algas marinas bentónicas de la Isla Gorgona, Costa Pacífica Colombiana. Revista de Biología Tropical 62, 2741.
Parker, D.M., Dutton, P.H. and Balazs, G.H. (2011) Oceanic diet and distribution of genotypes for the green turtle, Chelonia mydas, in the central North Pacific. Pacific Science 65, 419431.
Post, D.M. (2002) Using stable isotopes to estimate trophic position: models, methods, and assumptions. Ecology 83, 703718.
Prior, B., Booth, D.T. and Limpus, C.J. (2015) Investigating diet and diet switching in green turtles (Chelonia mydas). Australian Journal of Zoology 63, 365375.
Read, M.A. and Limpus, C.J. (2002) The green turtle, Chelonia mydas, in Queensland: feeding ecology of immature turtles in Moreton Bay, Southeastern Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 48, 207214.
Reich, K.J., Bjorndal, K.A. and Martínez del Río, C. (2008) Effects of growth and tissue type on the kinetics of 13C and 15N incorporation in a rapidly growing ectotherm. Oecologia 155, 651663.
Reich, K.J. and Seminoff, J.A. (2010) Standardizing sample collection, preparation, and analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in sea turtle research. In Blumenthal, J., Panagopoulou, A. and Rees, A.F. (eds) Proceedings of the 30th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, Goa, India, 27–29 April 2010. Second workshop in stable isotope techniques in sea turtle research. Miami, FL: NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-640.
Reisser, J., Proietti, M., Sazima, I., Kinas, P., Horta, P. and Secchi, E. (2013) Feeding ecology of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) at rocky reefs in western South Atlantic. Marine Biology 160, 31693179.
Sampson, L. and Giraldo, A. (2014) Annual abundance of salps and doliolids (Tunicata) around Gorgona Island (Colombian Pacific), and their importance as potential food for green sea turtles. Revista de Biología Tropical 62, 149159.
Sampson, L., Giraldo, A., Payán, L.F., Amorocho, D.F., Eguchi, T. and Seminoff, J.A. (2015) Somatic growth of juvenile green turtle (Chelonia mydas) morphotypes in the Colombian Pacific. Marine Biology 162, 15591566.
Sampson, L., Payán, L.F., Amorocho, D.F., Seminoff, J.A. and Giraldo, A. (2014) Intraspecific variation of the green turtle, Chelonia mydas (Cheloniidae), in the foraging area of Gorgona Natural National Park (Colombian Pacific). Acta Biológica Colombiana 19, 461470.
Schnetter, R. and Bula-Meyer, G. (1982) Algas marinas del litoral Pacífico de Colombia. Berlin: Springer Verlag.
Schuyler, Q., Hardesty, B.D., Wilcox, C. and Townsend, K. (2012) To eat or not to eat? Debris selectivity by marine turtles. PLoS ONE 7, e40884.
Seminoff, J.A., Jones, T.T., Eguchi, T., Jones, D.R. and Dutton, P.H. (2006) Stable isotope discrimination (δ13C and δ15N) between soft tissues of the green sea turtle Chelonia mydas and its diet. Marine Ecology Progress Series 308, 271278.
Seminoff, J.A., Resendiz, A. and Nichols, W.J. (2002) Diet of East Pacific green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Central Gulf of California, Mexico. Journal of Herpetology 36, 447453.
Stock, B.C. and Semmens, B.X. (2013) MixSIAR GUI User Manual, version 1.0. Available at
Taylor, W.R. (1945) Pacific marine algae of the Allan Hancock expeditions to the Galapagos Islands. Los Angeles, CA: The University of Southern California, Volume 12.
Vander Zanden, H.B., Bjorndal, K.A., Mustin, W., Ponciano, J.M. and Bolten, A.B. (2012) Inherent variation in stable isotope values and discrimination factors in two life stages of green turtles. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 85, 431441.
Velez-Zuazo, X., Quiñones, J., Pacheco, A.S., Klinge, L., Paredes, E., Quispe, S. and Kelez, S. (2014) Fast growing, healthy and resident green turtles (Chelonia mydas) at two neritic sites in the central and northern coast of Peru: implications for conservation. PLoS ONE 9, e113068.
Zapata, F.A. and Vargas-Ángel, B. (2003) Corals and coral reefs of the Pacific coast of Colombia. In Cortes, J. (ed.) Latin American Coral Reefs. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science B.V., pp. 419448.
Zapata, F.A., Rodríguez-Ramírez, A., Caro-Zambrano, C. and Garzón-Ferreira, J. (2010) Mid-term coral-algal dynamics and conservation status of a Gorgona Island (Tropical Eastern Pacific) coral reef. Revista de Biología Tropical 58, 8194.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
  • ISSN: 0025-3154
  • EISSN: 1469-7769
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-marine-biological-association-of-the-united-kingdom
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed