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Alison M. Gainsbury

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Incubation temperatures, in addition to an embryo’s genetic makeup, are critical in many aspects of adequate sea turtle embryonic development. The effects of high and low incubation temperatures on hatchling quality have been previously examined; however, many of these studies were conducted on relocated or laboratory-reared nests, which do not accurately reflect natural nest temperature fluctuations. To observe the impacts of varying in situ incubation temperatures on loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) hatchling morphology, various health variables and locomotor performance, temperature data loggers were deployed in 15 loggerhead nests on Juno Beach, Florida, between May and July 2018. Over the course of the study period, 10 morphological traits were measured, blood analytes and heart rate were assessed for the establishment of reference intervals and the self-righting response in seawater was evaluated. Warmer months were associated with smaller body size and higher body condition index, larger umbilical scar size, slower righting time, lower heart rates and higher packed cell volume, hemoglobin, total solids, total white blood cell count, absolute heterophils and absolute basophils. These findings provide evidence that higher in situ incubation temperatures have the potential to adversely affect hatchlings from warmer nests due to increased risk of predation from smaller body sizes, decreased physical responses and overall fitness, altered hemodynamic balance (e.g. dehydration) and potential inflammation and/or stress. With rising temperatures, we predict sea turtle hatchlings may have increasing risks of developing suboptimal physiological features affecting overall fitness and ultimately survival. These results demonstrate that rising environmental temperatures can negatively impact sea turtle hatchlings, thus representing additional stress on sea turtle populations and contributing to our understanding of potential pathophysiological effects of climate change on the delicate life-stage class of the sea turtle hatchling. This information will be useful for formulating effective future sea turtle management plans.


Oxford University Press

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.