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Keywords:

  • Caretta caretta;
  • Cheloniamydas;
  • climate;
  • Dermochelys coriacea;
  • ecological niche modelling;
  • Eretmochelys imbricata;
  • Lepidochelys kempii;
  • Lepidochelys olivacea;
  • marine turtle;
  • Natator depressus

Abstract

Aim

To understand whether climate limits current sea turtle nesting distributions and shapes the ecological niche of the terrestrial life-history stage of these wide-ranging marine vertebrates.

Location

Coastlines world-wide.

Methods

I predicted the spatial distributions of nesting habitat under current climatic conditions for seven sea turtle species using information criteria and maximum entropy modelling. I also compared niche similarity among species using three niche metrics: I, Schoener's D and relative rank.

Results

Sea turtles currently nest across their entire bioclimatic envelopes, with up to six species predicted to nest on a single beach. The Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Australasia support high nesting diversity, with most regional areas supporting three to five species. Despite large overlap in nesting distributions among species, loggerhead and green turtles have the broadest environmental niches, while Kemp's ridley and flatback turtles have very narrow niches.

Main conclusions

The terrestrial nesting habitat of sea turtles is characterized by distinct climatic conditions, which are linked to the physical conditions necessary for eggs to hatch successfully and allow hatchlings to disperse from natal areas. Despite broad geographic patterns of overlap and similar embryonic tolerances to temperature and moisture among species, sea turtles partition habitat by nesting in different niche spaces. The tight link between current geographic patterns of nesting and climate, along with the dependence of developing embryos on nest microclimate, imply that regional or global changes in environmental conditions could differentially influence the distribution of sea turtle species under climate change. This could influence the adaptive potential of different populations, and predicting these responses before they occur will be important in mitigating the effects of climate change.