Earlier nesting by loggerhead sea turtles following sea surface warming


John F. Weishampel, tel. +1 407 823 6634, fax +1 407 823 5769, e-mail: jweisham@mail.ucf.edu


The onset of spring, noted by the timing of wildlife migratory and breeding behaviors, has been occurring earlier over the past few decades. Here, we examine 15 years of loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, nesting patterns along a 40.5 km beach on Florida's Atlantic coast. This small section of beach is considered to be the most important nesting area for this threatened species in the western hemisphere. From 1989 to 2003, the annual number of nests fluctuated between 13 000 and 25 000 without a conspicuous trend; however, based on a regression analysis, the median nesting date became earlier by roughly 10 days. The Julian day of median nesting was significantly correlated with near-shore, May sea surface temperatures that warmed an average of 0.8°C over this period. This marine example from warm temperate/subtropical waters represents another response of nature to recent climate trends.