On the brink of extinction? How climate change may affect global chelonian species richness and distribution


Correspondence: Dennis Rödder, tel. + 0049 228 9122 252, fax + 0049 228 9122 212, e-mail:


Anthropogenic global climate change has already led to alterations in biodiversity patterns by directly and indirectly affecting species distributions. It has been suggested that poikilothermic animals, including reptiles, will be particularly affected by global change and large-scale reptile declines have already been observed. Currently, half of the world's freshwater turtles and tortoises are considered threatened with extinction, and climate change may exacerbate these declines. In this study, we assess how global chelonian species richness will change in the near future. We use species distribution models developed under current climate conditions for 78% of all extant species and project them onto different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios for 2080. We detect a strong dependence of temperature shaping most species ranges, which coincide with their general temperature-related physiological traits (i.e., temperature-dependent sex determination). Furthermore, the extent and distribution of the current bioclimatic niches of most chelonians may change remarkably in the near future, likely leading to a substantial decrease of local species abundance and ultimately a reduction in species richness. Future climatic changes may cause the ranges of 86% of the species to contract, and of these ranges, nearly 12% are predicted to be situated completely outside their currently realized niches. Hence, the interplay of increasing habitat fragmentation and loss due to climatic stress may result in a serious threat for several chelonian species.