Incubation Temperature Effects on Hatchling Performance in the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Fisher, Leah Rachel
Owens, David Wm.
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Incubation temperature has significant developmental effects on oviparous animals, including determining sex for several species. For the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), apparent population-wide female-biased hatchling sex ratios contrast with observations of juvenile populations, where sex ratios have remained constant at about 2 to 1 female-biased over the past 30 years. It has been suggested that some unknown factor is affecting loggerhead survival resulting in an unexplained differential loss of ~60% of female hatchlings per year. One theory to explain this hatchling mortality is tested in this project, that incubation temperature affects traits that influence survival. Furthermore, there may be differential survival between male and female hatchlings. I conducted laboratory experiments to test for an effect of incubation temperature on performance of loggerhead hatchlings. I tested 68 hatchlings produced from eggs incubated at 8 different constant temperatures ranging from ~27ºC to ~32.5ºC. Following their emergence from the eggs, I tested righting response, crawling speed, and conducted a 24-hour long hatchling swim test. Data indicate an effect of incubation temperature on survivorship, righting response time, crawling speed, change in crawl speed, and overall swim activity, with hatchlings incubated at 27ºC showing decreased locomotor abilities. No hatchlings survived when incubated at 32ºC and above. Differences in survivorship of hatchlings incubated at high temperatures are important in light of projected higher sand temperatures due to climate change, and could indicate increased mortality from incubation temperature effects.