The hierarchical levels at which resource selection occurs can have important consequences for individual and population energy budgets and structure the impacts of a forager on its ecosystem. Assessing factors affecting resource selection of large marine herbivores across scales is important because of their potentially large impacts on seagrass community dynamics and historical and current changes in their population sizes and those of their potential predators. I explored the factors (predation risk, resource abundance, quality and identity) affecting resource use of large marine herbivores (green turtles, Chelonia mydas) from the scale of habitat patches to forage species within patches. I used a combination of in-water surveys, aerial drone video transects, baited camera surveys, and seagrass community and nutrient content analyses to provide insights into resource use by turtles in multiple ecological contexts.
In Abaco, The Bahamas I found relatively intact shark populations, including apex predators, relative to other parts of the Caribbean. In the context of healthy predator populations in Abaco, I tested a priori predictions rooted in Ideal Free Distribution (IFD) theory. Green turtles off Abaco deviated from predictions of an IFD determined by the standing stocks of seagrass. Instead, distributions are consistent with predictions of the foraging arena hypothesis with turtles largely restricted to safe habitat patches and selecting locations within these where seagrass N content is relatively high.
Marine invasive species can have detrimental effects on coastal ecosystems and economies. Therefore, understanding the effects of, and factors influencing the rate of spread of the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea in the Caribbean is important. In the French West Indies (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin), I investigated foraging preferences for native versus invasive seagrass species and whether green turtles might facilitate or attenuate the invasion through their choice of habitats and feeding patterns. Green turtle distributions were correlated with native seagrass distributions. Also, despite similar nutrient contents, turtles preferred feeding on native seagrasses irrespective of their relative abundance within a patch. These results suggest that, as predicted by the Enemy Release Hypothesis, green turtles likely facilitate the invasion and spread of the invasive seagrass that may reduce energy flow into turtle populations.