Coastal degradation impacts on green turtle's (Chelonia mydas) diet in southeastern Brazil: Nutritional richness and health
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This study evaluated the influence of environmental degradation on the nutritional value of the main marine macrophytes consumed by green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in areas with different degrees of urbanization. Macrophyte assemblages in the highly urbanized area (HUa) showed lower richness compared to the lightly urbanized area (LUa) (Mann-Whitney U test: 10.0 ± 3.6 SD genera and 11.9 ± 4.2 taxa per transect vs. 20.1 ± 7.0 genera and 23.5 ± 9.2 taxa per transect) respectively. Also, diet was poorer with 4.0 ± 1.6 genera per turtle (vs. 8.5 ± 4.0 in HUa) and less diverse with Shannon index of diversity = 0.45 ± 0.29 (vs. 0.64 ± 0.46 in LUa). Body condition was similar in both areas. About half of individuals were classified as having normal body condition, 14–15% as underweight and 23–34% as being emaciated. Fibropapillomatosis prevalence (χ2 = 8.720; n = 222; df = 1; p = 0.003) was higher in the HUa but, in affected animals, severity was marginally non-significant (χ2 = 5.721; n = 82; df = 2; p = 0.057). Significant differences in energy content (kcal) were detected between areas in both summer (S) and winter (W). All ANOVAs on total lipids (F = 22.15 [S] and 30.39 [W]), total water-soluble proteins (F = 327.65 [S] and 64.42 [W]) and total carbohydrates (F = 70.90 [S] and 27.62 [W]) showed high significance (p < 0.001). Carotenoids concentration yielded significant results for Halodule in summer and Hypnea in winter (ANOVAs, F = 39.42 and 13.07, respectively). For both, tests revealed that concentration was higher in LUa than HUa. High levels of phycobiliproteins and proteins in this area probably reflect nitrogen accumulation. Frequency and severity of fibropapillomatosis suggest that urbanization-caused alterations in species diversity and in chemical composition of marine plants affect green turtles' health. Light abstract: The use of coastal areas by humanity is widespread and increasing. The impacts caused to the coastal environment, be it terrestrial, estuarine or marine, are important and affect numerous species. Our study evaluated the influence of environmental degradation on the nutritional value of the main algae eaten by the green turtle, one of the very few marine megaherbivores (those herbivores with body mass above 10 kg). Diet in the highly urbanized area was richer in proteins, lipids and carbohydrates (sugars) and lower in carotenoids (photosynthetic and photoprotectant pigments in algae and plants; precursors of vitamin A involved in oxygen transport in animals—animals do not synthetize such molecules). High levels in phycobiliproteins (photosynthetic pigments present in some algae) and proteins in the highly urbanized area probably result from organic pollution and nitrogen accumulation in coastal waters. Nitrogen compounds dissolved in water are a threat to vertebrates due to its toxicity and negative effects on the immune system. Our results suggest that algae chemical composition and severity of fibropapillomatosis (tumors caused by a herpesvirus in green sea turtles) are directly related through environmental alterations caused by urbanization.