A new paper in the journal Marine Biology is a critical first step toward understanding how threats such as climate change may affect populations of leatherback sea turtles, and in particular the males of the species. Male sea turtles generally spend their entire lives at sea after hatching. Previously, very little was known about how many leatherback males come from various nesting populations, an important piece of information in monitoring this endangered species.
In this study, Dr. Kelly Stewart and co-authors traced male leatherbacks from the Atlantic Ocean to their populations of origin. They used genetic analysis to match males either captured at sea or stranded on land to one of the nine Atlantic populations for which the necessary genetic data were available. All 122 of the males originated from just three of those populations (Trinidad, Costa Rica, and French Guiana). This is valuable information because current assessments of leatherback population status are based on studies of females. The findings may help researchers and managers better evaluate the threats males face, and the potential repercussions for their source populations. For example, fewer male sea turtles are born at higher nest temperatures, so it is possible that climate change could reduce number of males, thereby reducing a population’s reproductive capacity.
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Roden, S. E., Stewart, K. R., James, M. C., Dodge, K. L., Dell’Amico, F., Dutton, P. H. 2017. Genetic fingerprinting reveals natal origins of male leatherback turtles encountered in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Marine Biology, 164 (181). doi: 10.1007/s00227-017-3211-0.