Effectiveness of shading to mitigate the impact of high temperature on sea turtle clutches considering the effect on primary sex ratios

Abstract

Developmental success of sea turtle clutches depends on incubation temperature, which also determines sex ratio of hatchlings. As global temperatures are rising, several studies have proposed mitigation strategies such as irrigation and shading to increase hatching success. Our study expands upon this research and measures the effects of using boxes with different degrees of shade coverage (50%, 80%, and 90%) on sand temperature and water content. Boxes were fully covered with fabric in 2017/2018 (top and sides) but were side open in 2018/2019. We took measurements at olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtle nest depths (45 and 75 cm) at Playa Grande, Costa Rica. Shading reduced temperature by up to 0.8 °C and up to 0.4 °C at 45 cm and 75 cm, respectively. There were statistically significant differences between shading and control treatments at both depths, but differences between shade treatments were only significant when using side open boxes, possibly due to air flow. Shading had no effect on water content. While the impact of using shaded boxes on temperature was low, the potential impact on primary sex ratios was large. If shading were applied to leatherback clutches, the percentage of female hatchlings could vary by up to 50%, with a maximum difference around the pivotal temperature (temperature with 1:1 sex ratio). Shading can be useful to increase hatching success, but we recommend avoiding it at temperatures within the transitional range (temperatures that produce both sexes), or using it only during the last third of incubation, when sex is already determined. As global warming will likely continue, understanding potential impact and effectiveness of mitigation strategies may be critical for the survival of threatened sea turtle populations.

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Acknowledgments

We thank all volunteers and field assistants that helped with the construction and deployment of the shading experiment at the Playa Grande hatchery, especially, Cory Snyder and Abigail Parker. We also thank Roberto Zúñiga and the Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT) from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) for granting the research permits.

Funding

Funding for this project was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) of the USA, the Earthwatch Institute, the Disney Conservation Fund, and the Leatherback Trust.

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Correspondence to Pilar Santidrián Tomillo.

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Vindas-Picado, J., Yaney-Keller, A., St. Andrews, L. et al. Effectiveness of shading to mitigate the impact of high temperature on sea turtle clutches considering the effect on primary sex ratios. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 25, 1509–1521 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-020-09932-3

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Keywords

  • Climate mitigation
  • Climate change
  • Hatchery
  • Hatching success
  • TSD