Does the “Landscape of Fear” Influence Sea Turtle Movement?

Written by on August 4, 2015 in Marine Life, Sea Turtles, Sharks
Tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier.

Tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. Photo credit: WIlly Volk via photopin cc.

A new study from the University of Miami (UM) is one of the first to examine the predator-prey interactions between tiger sharks and loggerhead sea turtles in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Researchers focused on the “landscape of fear” model, which is used to describe “how animals move and interact with the environment based on their fear of being attacked by their predators.”

“This one of the first studies to compare the large scale, long-term movements of sea turtles with their natural predators, tiger sharks,” study co-author Lucy Hawkes of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation explained in a news release.

Tiger sharks are ambush predators, which means they typically attack turtles at the surface from below. If the turtles follow the landscape of fear model, this would mean that they should try to minimize their chances of being attacked by limiting their exposure at the surface in areas where their habitat overlaps with the sharks’. The researchers were surprised to find that this was not the case. It appeared that the turtles didn’t alter their behavior at all to reduce their chances of being attacked.

Loggerhead sea turtle.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit: NOAA.

“We suggest that sharks may not be an important factor influencing the movements of turtles in the study region,” said UM Research Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag. “In addition to the unpredictability of a shark attack over such a large area, it is possible that fishing of tiger sharks has reduced their populations to levels that no longer pose a significant threat to turtles, with other factors becoming more important such as the need to avoid boat strikes.”

The study findings are important for establishing effective protection efforts for both sharks and sea turtles.

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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