ABSTRACT

Although hydrogen isotopes (δ2H) are commonly used as tracers of animal movement, minimal research has investigated the use of δ2H as a proxy to quantify resource and habitat use. While carbon and nitrogen are ultimately derived from a single source (food), the proportion of hydrogen in consumer tissues originates from two distinct sources: body water and food. Before hydrogen isotopes can be effectively used as a resource and habitat tracer, we need estimates of (net) discrimination factors (Δ2HNet) that account for the physiologically mediated differences in the δ2H values of animal tissues relative to that of the food and water sources they use to synthesize tissues. Here, we estimated Δ2HNet in captive green turtles (Chelonia mydas) by measuring the δ2H values of tissues (epidermis and blood components) and dietary macromolecules collected in two controlled feeding experiments. Tissue δ2H and Δ2HNet values varied systematically among tissues, with epidermis having higher δ2H and Δ2HNet values than blood components, which mirrors patterns between keratinaceous tissues (feathers, hair) and blood in birds and mammals. Serum/plasma of adult female green turtles had significantly lower δ2H values compared with juveniles, likely due to increased lipid mobilization associated with reproduction. This is the first study to quantify Δ2HNet values in a marine ectotherm, and we anticipate that our results will further refine the use of δ2H analysis to better understand animal resource and habitat use in marine ecosystems, especially coastal areas fueled by a combination of marine (e.g. micro/macroalgae and seagrass) and terrestrial (e.g. mangroves) primary production.

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