July 5, 2011
Climate Change Threatens Endangered Freshwater Turtle
The Mary river turtle (Elusor macrurus), which is restricted to only one river system in Australia, will suffer from multiple problems if temperatures predicted under climate change are reached, researchers from the University of Queensland have shown.
The scientists, who presented their work at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual conference in Glasgow on 3rd July 2011, incubated turtle eggs at 26, 29 and 32Ã¢Â°C. Young turtles which developed under the highest temperature showed reduced swimming ability and a preference for shallower waters.
The Mary river turtle is already listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and the population has suffered a large decline over the past decades. Some factors known to have affected the population include collection of the eggs for the pet trade and introduced predators such as foxes and dogs. "Whether climate change has already contributed to the decline is not clear," says Ms. Micheli-Campbell. "But these results show it may be a danger to this species in the future."
These findings may be shared by other species of turtle, but the outcome is likely to be more extreme in the Mary River turtle as climatic warming is particularly pronounced for this area and the relatively shallow nests of freshwater turtles are more susceptible to changes in ambient temperature than the deeper nests of sea turtles. Further research is needed to understand the effects of climate change on incubation in other turtles.
Image Caption: Young Mary river turtles (Elusor macrurus) that were incubated at temperatures predicted under climate change showed reduced mobility and preference for shallow water. Credit: Mariana A. Micheli-Campbell
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