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Thermal niche, large-scale movements and implications of climate change for a critically endangered marine vertebrate

Authors

  • CLIVE R. McMAHON,

    1. Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP Wales, UK
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  • GRAEME C. HAYS

    1. Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP Wales, UK
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Graeme C. Hays, tel. +44 (0) 1792 295375, fax +44 (0) 1792 295447, e-mail: g.hays@swansea.ac.uk

Abstract

Climate change is expected to have a number of impacts on biological communities including range extensions and contractions. Recent analyses of multidecadal data sets have shown such monotonic shifts in the distribution of plankton communities and various fish species, both groups for which there is a large amount of historical data on distribution. However, establishing the implications of climate change for the range of endangered species is problematic as historic data are often lacking. We therefore used a different approach to predict the implications of climate change for the range of the critically endangered planktivourous leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). We used long-term satellite telemetry to define the habitat utilization of this species. We show that the northerly distribution limit of this species can essentially be encapsulated by the position of the 15°C isotherm and that the summer position of this isotherm has moved north by 330 km in the North Atlantic in the last 17 years. Consequently, conservation measures will need to operate over ever-widening areas to accommodate this range extension.

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