Article | Published:

Effects of rising temperature on the viability of an important sea turtle rookery

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 513518 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

A warming world poses challenges for species with temperature-dependent sex determination, including sea turtles, for which warmer incubation temperatures produce female hatchlings. We combined in situ sand temperature measurements with air temperature records since 1850 and predicted warming scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to derive 250-year time series of incubation temperatures, hatchling sex ratios, and operational sex ratios for one of the largest sea turtles rookeries globally (Cape Verde Islands, Atlantic). We estimate that light-coloured beaches currently produce 70.10% females whereas dark-coloured beaches produce 93.46% females. Despite increasingly female skewed sex ratios, entire feminization of this population is not imminent. Rising temperatures increase the number of breeding females and hence the natural rate of population growth. Predicting climate warming impacts across hatchlings, male–female breeding ratios and nesting numbers provides a holistic approach to assessing the conservation concerns for sea turtles in a warming world.

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Acknowledgements

G.C.H. was supported by the Climate Change Consortium for Wales (C3W). The authors thank Paolo Luschi and Mariel Murazzi for their help with the sand temperature measurements. We thank SOS Tartarugas for their support to loggerhead conservation in Cape Verde and the numerous volunteers who helped with the fieldwork. J-O.L. thanks Jean-Baptiste Laloë for his help in establishing the mathematical equation to calculate the hatchling sex ratios.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Singleton Park Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

    • Jacques-Olivier Laloë
    •  & Graeme C. Hays
  2. SOS Tartarugas, Santa Maria, Sal, Republic of Cape Verde

    • Jacquie Cozens
    • , Berta Renom
    •  & Albert Taxonera
  3. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Victoria 3280, Australia

    • Graeme C. Hays

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Contributions

J.C. initiated the project and completed all the field work. J.C., B.R., and A.T. compiled the data. G.C.H. conceived the manuscript. J-O.L. led the data analysis. J-O.L. and G.C.H. wrote the manuscript with contributions from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jacques-Olivier Laloë.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2236