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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 9:33-40 (2009)  -  DOI:

Proxy indicators of sand temperature help project impacts of global warming on sea turtles in northern Australia

M. M. P. B. Fuentes1,*, J. A. Maynard2,3, M. Guinea4, I. P. Bell5, P. J. Werdell6, M. Hamann1

1School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2Applied Environmental Decision Analysis CERF Hub, School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia
3Climate Change Group, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, PO Box 1379, 2-68 Flinders St., Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
4School of Science and Primary Industries, Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
5Threatened Species Branch, Environmental Protection Agency, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
6Science Systems and Applications Inc., NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

ABSTRACT: Global warming poses serious threats to sea turtle populations since sex determination and hatching success are dependent on nest temperature. Nest sex ratios may be skewed towards a predominantly female output, and eggs may be consistently exposed to temperatures that exceed thermal mortality thresholds. Consequently, understanding the rates at which sand temperatures are likely to change represents an immediate priority. Here, we use regression analyses to correlate air temperature (AT) and high-resolution sea surface temperature (SST) to sand temperature at 5 rookeries in northern Australia. We show that previous studies using only AT could potentially be improved by including SST as a covariate. At our study sites, combined SST and AT models explained between 79 and 94% of the variance in sand temperature in recent years. Our results suggest that hatchling production will skew towards all females at 3 of our sites by 2070 (Moulter Cay, Milman Island and Bramble Cay) and by as early as 2030 at Ashmore Island and Bare Sand Island. The projections presented here can inform the timely and targeted implementation of local-scale management strategies to reduce the impacts of global warming on sea turtle populations. Identifying and testing new strategies deserves immediate attention, as does further research into the adaptive capacity of sea turtles.

KEY WORDS: Global warming · Temperature · Sea turtles · Sex ratio · Hatching success · Torres Strait · Australia

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Cite this article as: Fuentes MMPB, Maynard JA, Guinea M, Bell IP, Werdell PJ, Hamann M (2009) Proxy indicators of sand temperature help project impacts of global warming on sea turtles in northern Australia. Endang Species Res 9:33-40.

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