Limb-use by foraging marine turtles, an evolutionary perspective

Contributors:
  1. Andrew Brooks
  2. Johnny Gaskell

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Description: The use of limbs for foraging is documented in both marine and terrestrial tetrapods. These behaviors were once believed to be less likely in marine tetrapods due to the physical constraints of body plans adapted to locomotion in a fluid environment. Despite these obstacles, ten distinct types of limb-use while foraging have been previously reported in nine marine tetrapod families. Here, we expand the types of limb-use documented in marine turtles and put it in context with the diversity of marine tetrapods currently known to use limbs for foraging. Additionally, we suggest that such behaviors could have occurred in ancestral turtles, and thus, possibly extend the evolutionary timeline of limb-use behavior in marine tetrapods back 70 million years. Through direct observation in situ and crowd-sourcing, we document the range of behaviors across habitats and prey types, suggesting its widespread occurrence. We argue the presence of these behaviors among marine tetrapods may be limited by limb mobility and evolutionary history, rather than foraging ecology or social learning. These behaviors may also be remnant of ancestral forelimb-use that have been maintained due to a semi-aquatic life history.

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