Some North American turtles may suffer in the future as a warming climate impacts their native habitats, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE. Scientists with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis reconstructed how past climactic changes affected 59 species of turtles native to North America and found that the centers of the turtles ranges moved an average of 45 miles for each degree change of warming or cooling. They determined that those turtles in temperature forests, grasslands, deserts, and lake systems were more negatively affected by climate change than those turtles living on the West Coast of the United States, the mountain areas of the western United States and Mexico, and in the tropics.
The study took data from 300 published studies of turtle physiology, genetics, and fossils and integrated it with new models of species' response to climate change over the last three glacial-interglacial cycles which caused a widespread variations in the Earth's temperatures.
"By studying how turtles responded to these climate cycles, we can learn about regional differences of the impact of climate change, how climate change differently impacts species, and how climate has influenced evolution," co-lead author Michelle Lawing, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, said in a statement.
The scientists say that the climate change is occurring faster than a turtle's ability to adapt and evolve to the changes and will have to keep moving from their geographic ranges to keep up with the rate of change. One of the problems with this migration though is that the places for these animals are becoming more limited. Traditional avenues of migration have been disrupted by man-made waterways and urban and agricultural landscapes. These barriers were not present in the past, when turtles were able to move about more freely.