, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 639-646

Seasonal fluctuations in sand temperature: effects on the incubation period and mortality of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) pre-emergent hatchlings in Minabe, Japan

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Incubation period, hatching success, and emergence percentage in loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nests were quantified during the 1993 and 1995 nesting seasons and following incubation seasons in Minabe, Wakayama, Japan. Sand and nest temperatures were also monitored. Over the seasons, daily mean sand temperature at nest depth fluctuated between 18.0°C and 33.3°C, with a steep increase in the second week of July and a peak in late August. Temperatures inside the nest chambers were a few degrees above those of the surrounding sand at the end of incubation. The incubation period ranged from 46 to 82 days. A significant negative correlation was found between mean sand temperature and incubation period. The relationship conformed to the day-degree concept. There was no significant seasonal trend in hatching success, but many pre-emergent hatchlings were found dead in most of the clutches during the warmest part of the season. Emergence percentage was correlated with mean sand temperature calculated for 4 days before emergence, suggesting that mortality may be due to heat. This heat-related mortality is considered to be a common phenomenon at our study site, because the peak in emergences coincides with the peak in high temperatures. These temperature effects on hatchling mortality must be taken into account in estimates of hatchling sex ratios. Because sand temperatures already exceed the optimal thermal range for incubation, this population is vulnerable to even small temperature increases resulting from global warming.

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