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Open AccessArticle

Meiofauna Life on Loggerhead Sea Turtles-Diversely Structured Abundance and Biodiversity Hotspots That Challenge the Meiofauna Paradox

1
Coastal and Marine Laboratory, Florida State University, St Teresa, FL 32358, USA
2
Department of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Paraíba, Areia-PB 58397-000, Brazil
3
Zoology department, Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife-PE 50670-901, Brazil
4
Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306,USA
5
Public Works-Coastal Division, Indian River County, Vero Beach, FL 32960, USA
6
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tallahassee, FL 32399, USA
7
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA
8
Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Valby, 2500 Copenhagen, Denmark
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 203; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050203
Received: 3 April 2020 / Revised: 12 May 2020 / Accepted: 13 May 2020 / Published: 20 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
Sea turtles migrate thousands of miles annually between foraging and breeding areas, carrying dozens of epibiont species with them on their journeys. Most sea turtle epibiont studies have focused on large-sized organisms, those visible to the naked eye. Here, we report previously undocumented levels of epibiont abundance and biodiversity for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), by focusing on the microscopic meiofauna. During the peak of the 2018 loggerhead nesting season at St. George Island, Florida, USA, we sampled all epibionts from 24 carapaces. From the subsamples, we identified 38,874 meiofauna individuals belonging to 20 higher taxa. This means 810,753 individuals were recovered in our survey, with an average of 33,781 individuals per carapace. Of 6992 identified nematodes, 111 different genera were observed. To our knowledge, such levels of sea turtle epibiont abundance and diversity have never been recorded. Loggerhead carapaces are without doubt hotspots of meiofaunal and nematode diversity, especially compared to other non-sedimentary substrates. The posterior carapace sections harbored higher diversity and evenness compared to the anterior and middle sections, suggesting increased colonization and potentially facilitation favoring posterior carapace epibiosis, or increased disturbance on the anterior and middle carapace sections. Our findings also shed new light on the meiofauna paradox: “How do small, benthic meiofauna organisms become cosmopolitan over large geographic ranges?” Considering high loggerhead epibiont colonization, the large distances loggerheads migrate for reproduction and feeding, and the evolutionary age and sheer numbers of sea turtles worldwide, potentially large-scale exchange and dispersal for meiofauna through phoresis is implied. We distinguished different groups of loggerhead carapaces based on divergent epibiont communities, suggesting distinct epibiont colonization processes. These epibiont observations hold potential for investigating loggerhead movements and, hence, their conservation.
Keywords: sea turtles; loggerheads; marine biodiversity; meiofauna; epibionts; Florida; Gulf of Mexico; meiofauna paradox; nematodes; Nematoda; hotspots; phoresis sea turtles; loggerheads; marine biodiversity; meiofauna; epibionts; Florida; Gulf of Mexico; meiofauna paradox; nematodes; Nematoda; hotspots; phoresis
MDPI and ACS Style

Ingels, J.; Valdes, Y.; Pontes, L.P.; Silva, A.C.; Neres, P.F.; Corrêa, G.V.V.; Silver-Gorges, I.; Fuentes, M.M.; Gillis, A.; Hooper, L.; Ware, M.; O’Reilly, C.; Bergman, Q.; Danyuk, J.; Sanchez Zarate, S.; Acevedo Natale, L.I.; dos Santos, G.A.P. Meiofauna Life on Loggerhead Sea Turtles-Diversely Structured Abundance and Biodiversity Hotspots That Challenge the Meiofauna Paradox. Diversity 2020, 12, 203.

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