Predicting the fate of a living fossil: how will global warming affect sex determination and hatching phenology in tuatara?

Nicki Mitchell, M.R. Kearney, N.J. Nelson, W.P. Porter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    149 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    How will climate change affect species' reproduction and subsequent survival? In many egg-laying reptiles, the sex of offspring is determined by the temperature experienced during a critical period of embryonic development (temperature-dependent sex determination, TSD). Increasing air temperatures are likely to skew offspring sex ratios in the absence of evolutionary or plastic adaptation, hence we urgently require means for predicting the future distributions of species with TSD. Here we develop a mechanistic model that demonstrates how climate, soil and topography interact with physiology and nesting behaviour to determine sex ratios of tuatara, cold-climate reptiles from New Zealand with an unusual developmental biology. Under extreme regional climate change, all-male clutches would hatch at 100% of current nest sites of the rarest species, Sphenodon guntheri, by the mid-2080s. We show that tuatara could behaviourally compensate for the male-biasing effects of warmer air temperatures by nesting later in the season or selecting shaded nest sites. Later nesting is, however, an unlikely response to global warming, as many oviparous species are nesting earlier as the climate warms. Our approach allows the assessment of the thermal suitability of current reserves and future translocation sites for tuatara, and can be readily modified to predict climatic impacts on any species with TSD.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2185-2193
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Volume275
    Issue number1648
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

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