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Habitat preservation crucial for turtle and tortoise survival

Habitat preservation crucial for turtle and tortoise survival

The survival of turtles and tortoises is more dependent on habitat degradation than rising global temperatures, according to University of Bristol researchers.

As both animals are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature changes, concerns have been raised about how climate change would affect them. In many species, temperature determines if the egg will develop into a male or female.

Using advanced climate models and fossil records of turtles from the Late Cretaceous period (66-72 million years ago), scientists found turtles and tortoises were able to survive periods with much warmer temperatures. This was dependent on enough water in rivers and lakes being present to live in.

Amy Waterson, PhD student and lead author from the University of Bristol said: “Some groups of turtles have maintained similar niches over millions of years. They have withstood warmer climates in the past and their ability to adapt to the rate of environmental change happening today will be an important factor in their resilience to future climate change.”

More than 60% of turtles or tortoises are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. This is mainly due to them being traded, collected for food or their habitats destroyed.

Professor Daniela Schmidt, an expert in palaeobiology from the University of Bristol and also involved in the study, said: “The largest difference between the warm Cretaceous and today is that this earlier warming happened over tens of thousands of years, giving these animals a chance to adapt to these conditions, not in a century.”

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, with support from The Royal Society and included researchers from the London Natural History Museum and the University of California.

The research was published in the Royal Society of Proceedings B.