Resilience of marine turtle regional management units to climate change


Correspondence: Fuentes MMPB, tel. + 61 47815270, fax + 61 47816722, e-mail:


Enhancing species resilience to changing environmental conditions is often suggested as a climate change adaptation strategy. To effectively achieve this, it is necessary first to understand the factors that determine species resilience, and their relative importance in shaping the ability of species to adjust to the complexities of environmental change. This is an extremely challenging task because it requires comprehensive information on species traits. We explored the resilience of 58 marine turtle regional management units (RMUs) to climate change, encompassing all seven species of marine turtles worldwide. We used expert opinion from the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group (n = 33 respondents) to develop a Resilience Index, which considered qualitative characteristics of each RMU (relative population size, rookery vulnerability, and genetic diversity) and non climate-related threats (fisheries, take, coastal development, and pollution/pathogens). Our expert panel perceived rookery vulnerability (the likelihood of functional rookeries becoming extirpated) and non climate-related threats as having the greatest influence on resilience of RMUs to climate change. We identified the world's 13 least resilient marine turtle RMUs to climate change, which are distributed within all three major ocean basins and include six of the world's seven species of marine turtle. Our study provides the first look at inter- and intra-species variation in resilience to climate change and highlights the need to devise metrics that measure resilience directly. We suggest that this approach can be widely used to help prioritize future actions that increase species resilience to climate change.