A 20-year Investigation of Declining Leatherback Hatching Success: Implications of Climate Variation


Unprecedented increases in air temperature and erratic precipitation patterns are predicted throughout the twenty-first century as a result of climate change. A recent global analysis of leatherback turtle hatchling output predicts that the nesting site at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge (SPNWR) will experience the most significant regional climate alterations. We aimed to identify how local air temperatures and precipitation patterns influenced within-nest mortality and overall hatchling output at this site between 1990 and 2010. We show that while the greatest mortality occurred during the latest stages of development (stage three), the rate of embryo mortality was highest during the initial stages (stage zero) of development (approx. 3.8 embryos per day per clutch). Increased mortality at stage three was associated with decreased precipitation and increased temperature during this developmental period, whereas precipitation prior to, and during stage zero had the greatest influence on early mortality. There was a significant decline in overall hatching success (falling from 74% to 55%) and emergence rate (calculated from the number of hatchlings that emerged from the nest as a percentage of hatched eggs) which fell from 96% to 91%. However, there was no trend observed in local temperature or precipitation during this timeframe, and neither variable was related to hatching success or emergence rate. In conclusion, our findings suggest that despite influencing within-nest mortality, climatic variability does not account for the overall decline in hatchling output at SPNWR from 1990 to 2010. Further research is therefore needed to elicit the reasons for this decline.

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Author(s)Rafferty AR
Johnstone CP
Garner JA
Reina RD
Published Date2017
Publication LanguageEnglish
TypeScientific Article
CMS InstrumentIOSEA Marine Turtles