Terrestrial basking sea turtles are responding to spatio-temporal sea surface temperature patterns

Last modified: 
August 30, 2016 - 9:37am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2015
Date published: 01/2015
Authors: K. Van Houtan, J. Halley, W. Marks
Journal title: Biology Letters
Volume: 11
Issue: 14
ISSN: 1744-9561

Naturalists as early as Darwin observed terrestrial basking in green turtles (Chelonia mydas), but the distribution and environmental influences of this behaviour are poorly understood. Here, we examined 6 years of daily basking surveys in Hawaii and compared them with the phenology of local sea surface temperatures (SST). Data and models indicated basking peaks when SST is coolest, and we found this timeline consistent with bone stress markings. Next, we assessed the decadal SST profiles for the 11 global green turtle populations. Basking generally occurs when winter SST falls below 23°C. From 1990 to 2014, the SST for these populations warmed an average 0.04°C yr−1 (range 0.01–0.09°C yr−1); roughly three times the observed global average over this period. Owing to projected future warming at basking sites, we estimated terrestrial basking in green turtles may cease globally by 2100. To predict and manage for future climate change, we encourage a more detailed understanding for how climate influences organismal biology.

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