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Sea turtle sex ratios of turtles in a climate challenged environment, and what these might tell us

Authors:

Abstract

The Arabian/Persian Gulf is home to sea turtles surviving at extreme thermal limits. The combination of living under extreme climatic conditions and increasing anthropogenic impacts potentially undermine their survival prospects. But simultaneously, these climate extremes offer a living laboratory for understanding impacts of global climate change on marine species and allow us to speculate on potential evolutionary adaptations to climate in sea turtles. Until recently we had no information on sex ratios in the wild or on the dynamics of turtle populations with regard to population structure and sex ratios. Given the environmental and habitat alteration pressures these turtles are subjected to, filling these aspects of turtle biology is critical so that we are best equipped to inform management agencies of targeted conservation needs and options. We investigated sea turtle stocks in nearshore waters of Qatar and Qeshm, using laparoscopy to ascertain population structure and gender ratios of populations in the wild. We found coastal waters were home to mostly juvenile turtles, and that no adults remained outside of the nesting season. We found a notable male bias in juvenile hawksbills and only a slight female bias in greens. Given extreme high temperatures experienced during the nesting season in the Gulf, we suggest that turtles may have evolutionary adaptations that enable shifts in pivotal temperatures over evolutionary timescales, allowing them to cope to some extent with changes in climate patterns. We caution, however, that turtles may not have the ability to keep track with current rates of climate change.
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Seaturtlesexratiosofturtlesinaclimatechallengedenvironment,
andwhatthesemighttellus
NicolasPilcher1,IbrahimAlMaslamani2,MohsenRezaie-Atagholipour3,
JamesWilliams1&ReynielGasang2
1MarineResearchFoundation,Sabah,Malaysia
2QatarUniversity,Doha,StateofQatar
3QeshmFreeAreaOrganization,QeshmIsland,Iran
ABSTRACT
TheArabian/PersianGulf ishometo seaturtlessurviving atextreme thermal limits.Thecombination of
living under extreme climatic conditions and increasing anthropogenic impacts potentially undermine
their survival prospects. But simultaneously, these climate extremes offer a living laboratory for
understandingimpactsofglobalclimatechangeonmarinespeciesandallowustospeculate onpotential
evolutionaryadaptationstoclimateinseaturtles.
Until recentlywehadnoinformationonsexratiosinthewildoron the dynamics of turtle populations
with regard to population structure and sex ratios. Given the environmental and habitat alteration
pressurestheseturtlesaresubjectedto,fillingtheseaspectsofturtlebiologyiscriticalsothatwearebest
equippedtoinformmanagementagenciesoftargetedconservationneedsandoptions.
WeinvestigatedseaturtlestocksinnearshorewatersofQatarandQeshm,usinglaparoscopytoascertain
populationstructureandgenderratiosofpopulationsinthewild. Wefoundcoastalwaterswerehometo
mostly juvenile turtles, and that no adults remained outside of the nesting season. Wefound a notable
malebiasinjuvenile hawksbillsandonlyaslightfemalebiasingreens.Givenextremehightemperatures
experienced during the nesting season in the Gulf, we suggest that turtles may have evolutionary
adaptations that enable shifts in pivotal temperatures over evolutionary timescales, allowing them to
copetosome extentwithchangesinclimatepatterns. Wecaution,however,thatturtlesmaynothavethe
abilitytokeeptrackwithcurrent rates ofclimatechange.
Keywords: seaturtles,sexratio,climatechange,adaptation
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