Does prey size matter? Novel observations of feeding in the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) allow a test of predator-prey size relationships

Sabrina Fossette, Adrian C. Gleiss, James P. Casey, Andrew R. Lewis, Graeme C. Hays

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Optimal foraging models predict that large predators should concentrate on large prey in order to maximize their net gain of energy intake. Here, we show that the largest species of sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, does not strictly adhere to this general pattern. Field observations combined with a theoretical model suggest that a 300 kg leatherback turtle would meet its energetic requirements by feeding for 3-4 h a day on 4 g jellyfish, but only if prey were aggregated in high-density patches. Therefore, prey abundance rather than prey size may, in some cases, be the overriding parameter for foraging leatherbacks. This is a classic example where the presence of small prey in the diet of a large marine predator may reflect profitable foraging decisions if the relatively low energy intake per small individual prey is offset by high encounter rates and minimal capture and handling costs. This study provides, to our knowledge, the first quantitative estimates of intake rate for this species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-354
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes

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