Physiological changes in post-hatchling green turtles (Chelonia mydas) following short-term fasting: implications for release protocols

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March, DT, Ariel, E, Munns, S, Rudd, D, Blyde, D, Christidis, L & Kelaher, BP 2019, 'Physiological changes in post-hatchling green turtles (Chelonia mydas) following short-term fasting: implications for release protocols ', Conservation Physiology, vol. 7, no. 1, art. coz016.

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Relocation of sea turtle nests and the retention of post-hatchlings for head-starting programs are both commonly used to improve conservation outcomes and facilitate eco-tourism ventures. Currently, there is little literature surrounding the husbandry protocols required during these programs to optimize post-release outcomes. To assess the impact of varied feeding regimes on exercise performance, (which will hereafter be referred to as ‘fitness’), 40 10-month-old captive post-hatchling green turtles (Chelonia mydas) were divided into four groups of 10 and fasted for either 3, 9, 10 or 15 h. The animals were then subjected to a fitness test via repetitive use of the ‘righting reflex’ on land. Health assessments were conducted prior to the fitness test, including; heart rate, haematocrit (Hct), heterophil to lymphocyte ratio and the measurement of 11 biochemical analytes, including pH, partial pressures of carbon dioxide (PvCO2) and oxygen (PvO2), lactate, bicarbonate (HCO3−), sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl−), ionized calcium (iCa2+), glucose and urea. Results were corrected for multiple comparisons and significant differences among groups were demonstrated for temperature, pH, HCO3−, iCa2+, urea and lactate. To investigate physiological relationships between analytes, correlation coefficients were calculated between fitness and glucose, fitness and lactate, glucose and lactate, pH and iCa2+, pH and K+, pH and PvCO2, pH and HCO3− and Hct and K+. Following correction for multiple comparisons, significant relationships were seen between pH and iCa2+ and pH and HCO3−. Post-hatchling turtles appear to enter a catabolic state when exposed to short-term fasting. While this did not have a direct impact on fitness, the production of an intense energetic output from a catabolic state may induce a physiological debt. This study suggests that handling that induces a physical response should be minimized and animals should be fed within 10 h of release.

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