Habitat selection and 3D space use partitioning of resident juvenile hawksbill sea turtles in a small Caribbean bay

J. K. Matley, L. K. Johansen, N. V. Klinard, S. T. Eanes, P. D. Jobsis

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Understanding how aquatic animals select and partition resources provides relevant information about community dynamics that can be used to help manage conservation efforts. The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) spends an extended part of its juvenile development in coastal waters. A strong proclivity to remain resident in small areas, often in high density, raises questions about how juveniles partition resources including selection of habitat and spatial overlap among conspecifics. Using between 36 and 41 acoustic receivers in the 1.5 km2 study site, this study quantified day-and-night habitat selection, as well as 2D and 3D space use of 23 juvenile hawksbills within two adjacent Caribbean foraging grounds—Brewers Bay and Hawksbill Cove, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands—between 2015 and 2018. We found that coral reef, rock, and the artificial dolosse forming an airport runway, were the most strongly selected habitats based on resource selection indices. Individual activity spaces in 2D and 3D were both larger during the day compared to night, although the same parts of the bay were used by each individual during both periods. The 3D approach also showed deeper space use during the day. Weekly comparisons of activity space between individuals showed limited overlap (mean 95% UD overlap; day: 0.15 (2D) and 0.07 (3D), night: 0.11 (2D) and 0.03 (3D)), suggesting some degree of resource partitioning or territoriality. Results from this study provide relevant space use information for resource management of juvenile hawksbills, in which many populations are facing habitat degradation and population declines.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number8
Early online date6 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Habitat selection
  • hawksbill sea turtle
  • Eretmochelys imbricata
  • conservation
  • US Virgin Islands


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