Day: February 20, 2007

Sea Turtle News o' the day – Global warming edition

ScienceDaily: Scientists Warn Of Climate Change Risk To Marine Turtles

North American marine turtles are at risk if global warming occurs at predicted levels, according to scientists from the University of Exeter. An increase in temperatures of just one degree Celsius could completely eliminate the birth of male turtles from some beaches. A rise of three degrees Celsius would lead to extreme levels of infant mortality and declines in nesting beaches across the USA.

Here’s the paper.

Like a lot of other reptiles, the sex of the hatchling is dependent on nest temperature. Warmer temperatures make female turtles (my mnemonic was hot females!), and even warmer temperatures just kill the eggs. But, I wonder if the turtles would adapt by nesting a little earlier. I don’t think it is yet clear when turtles decide to nest. If it is based on sea temperature, then they would eventually figure it out. This paper from 2004 appears to conclude that loggerheads in Florida do nest earlier than before, so there is hope.

John F. Weishampel, Dean A. Bagley, Llewellyn M. Ehrhart (2004) Earlier nesting by loggerhead sea turtles following sea surface warming Global Change Biology 10 (8), 1424–1427

The onset of spring, noted by the timing of wildlife migratory and breeding behaviors, has been occurring earlier over the past few decades. Here, we examine 15 years of loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, nesting patterns along a 40.5 km beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast. This small section of beach is considered to be the most important nesting area for this threatened species in the western hemisphere. From 1989 to 2003, the annual number of nests fluctuated between 13 000 and 25 000 without a conspicuous trend; however, based on a regression analysis, the median nesting date became earlier by roughly 10 days. The Julian day of median nesting was significantly correlated with near-shore, May sea surface temperatures that warmed an average of 0.8°C over this period. This marine example from warm temperate/subtropical waters represents another response of nature to recent climate trends.

So the truth lies somewhere between easy adaptation and giant swarms of frustrated female turtles!