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ESR 44:397-408 (2021)  -  DOI:

Role of incubation environment in determining thermal tolerance of sea turtle hatchlings

Christopher R. Gatto*, Bill Matthews, Richard D. Reina

School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Warming global temperatures are predicted to reduce population viability in many oviparous ectothermic taxa, with increased embryonic mortality likely to be a main cause. While research on embryonic upper thermal limits is extensive, sea turtle hatchling thermal tolerance has received less attention and our understanding of how incubation conditions influence hatchling thermal tolerance is limited. Here, we report green turtle Chelonia mydas hatchling hydration and thermal tolerance following incubation in dry and wet conditions. We used packed cell volume and total protein as indicators of hydration and measured the critical thermal maximum (CTmax) of hatchlings in air. Neither hydration nor thermal tolerance was directly influenced by moisture treatment. However, hatchlings from moister nests had longer incubation durations (wet: 60.11 d vs. dry: 54.86 d), and, using incubation duration as a proxy for incubation temperature, hatchlings from cooler nests had significantly lower CTmax (wet: 39.84°C vs. dry: 40.51°C). Thus, despite not directly influencing thermal tolerance, moisture treatment influenced nest temperature indirectly; hatchlings that experienced warmer conditions in dry nests had a higher thermal tolerance than hatchlings from cooler and wetter nests. Ectothermic neonates may have greater plasticity in their thermal tolerance than previously thought, but their ability to adapt to increasing temperature is likely limited. Additionally, common management techniques to reduce nest temperatures, such as watering and shading nests, may only reduce embryonic mortality at the cost of decreased hatchling thermal tolerance and increased hatchling mortality during emergence. Nesting-site management interventions designed to reduce embryonic mortality will need to consider mitigation of the possible effects of those interventions on hatchling mortality.

KEY WORDS: Critical thermal maximum · Thermal tolerance · Moisture · Temperature · Hydration · Green turtle · Chelonia mydas · Hatchling

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Cite this article as: Gatto CR, Matthews B, Reina RD (2021) Role of incubation environment in determining thermal tolerance of sea turtle hatchlings. Endang Species Res 44:397-408.

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