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New study suggests sea turtles may not be able to adapt to climate change

(November 1, 2023) – A new study led by a Florida State University professor suggests that sea turtles may not be able to adapt to the projected impacts of climate change even if they change their nesting times.

Higher temperatures could lead to lower hatching success and higher proportions of female sea turtles, both of which could jeopardize the viability of sea turtle species. Sand temperatures at sea turtle nesting sites are projected to rise by about 0.6 degrees Celsius globally to about 4.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

To study how sea turtles respond to higher temperatures, researchers led by Mariana Fuentes, associate professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, collected data from 24 sea turtle nesting sites around the world inhabited by four species of sea turtles: green, red, hawksbill and olive ridley.

They used this data to predict how sea turtles change nesting times and the hatching success of sea turtles.

“We observed,” said Fuentes, “that sea turtles would nest earlier to adapt to optimal environmental conditions. However, we found that even when sea turtles changed their nesting times, it was not enough to maintain the current temperature at the nesting site.

To maintain incubation temperatures at the sites the researchers examined, turtles had to nest 20 to 191 days earlier or 54 to 180 days later. But at about half the sites, median incubation temperatures were always 75 percent above the current range.

New study suggests sea turtles may not be able to adapt to climate change

Sea turtles that nested farther from the equator were better able to offset the effects of warming. And sea turtles that nest near the equator are the most affected.

Scientists have long studied the hatching process of sea turtle eggs to understand how wildlife adapts to warming temperatures. Different sea turtle species have been around for millions of years and have adapted to previous changes in the Earth’s climate, but the rate of change is much faster now. The researchers didn’t look at the viability of the populations in this study, but if fewer hatchlings are hatched, there will also be fewer hatchlings in some places in 100 years.

Skeptics may say that turtles have been around for a long time and have adapted to their environment, but our study suggests that the adaptations they may have made are not enough to offset the projected impacts,” Fuentes said.

The study involved 52 collaborators from universities in the United States, Mexico, Qatar, France, Australia, Turkey, Cyprus, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, South Africa, Spain, French Polynesia, El Salvador and the United Kingdom. The study was supported by the United States National Science Foundation and a number of other agencies that provided funding for the fieldwork.

(November 1, 2023) – A new study led by a Florida State University professor suggests that sea turtles may not be able to adapt to the projected impacts of climate change even if they change their nesting times. Higher temperatures could lead to lower hatching success and higher proportions of female sea turtles, both of…

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