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Ecol Appl. 2006 Jun;16(3):923-31.

Deforestation: risk of sex ratio distortion in hawksbill sea turtles.

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Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario MSS 3G5, Canada.


Phenotypic sex in sea turtles is determined by nest incubation temperatures, with warmer temperatures producing females and cooler temperatures producing males. The common finding of highly skewed female-biased hatchling sex ratios in sea turtle populations could have serious repercussions for the long-term survival of these species and prompted us to examine the thermal profile of a relatively pristine hawksbill nesting beach in Guadeloupe, French West Indies. Data loggers placed at nest depth revealed that temperatures in the forested areas were significantly cooler than temperatures in the more open, deforested areas. Using these temperatures as a predictor of sex ratio, we were able to assess the relative contributions of the different beach zones to the primary sex ratio: significantly more males were likely to be produced in the forested areas. Coastal forests are therefore important male-producing areas for the hawksbill sea turtle, and this has urgent conservation implications. On Guadeloupe, as on many Caribbean islands, deforestation rates are high and show few signs of slowing, as there is continual pressure to develop beachfront areas. The destruction of coastal forest could have serious consequences both in terms of local nesting behavior and of regional demography through the effects on population sex ratios. Human alterations to nesting habitat in other reptile taxa have been shown to modify the thermal properties of nest sites in ways that can disrupt their ecology by allowing parasite transmission, increasing vulnerability to climate change, or rendering existing habitat unsuitable.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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