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This trait, called plasticity, helps animals alter their behavior in the short term until inherited behavior takes over.
"What we found was that in the late 1980s, painted turtles started nesting in early June, now it is on the order of 10 days or more earlier," said Janzen.
"These behaviors are showing how the plasticity of the species is helping them survive, but we are wondering what the limit is to their ability to adapt." Janzen's research took a broad look at the entire species and not just turtle populations that are on the fringe of where the animals can live.
Janzen feels this aspect of the collaborative study gives the results added credibility. So we said 'What if we looked at the entire range of a species and not just one population at the extremes.'" Janzen and his collaborators studied mud turtles, sliders, snapping turtles and painted turtles that live in South Carolina, Nebraska, and along the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois.
Most studies look at populations on the outer limits of a species' environment, and Janzen and his colleagues set out to study the entire species of the turtle populations. An aspect of the study that surprised Janzen was the gender of the offspring.
"I think it's human nature to study populations on the margins and not from the center," he said. The gender of turtle offspring, as with many reptiles, is typically determined by the temperature of the ground where they lay their eggs. "Warmth produces females, so we thought we'd have more females," said Janzen.
Janzen predicted that with warming temperature, the phenomenon of temperature-dependent sex determination would cause a disproportionate number of females since warmer conditions produce that gender. "But what we think is happening is, since the air feels warmer, the turtles are nesting earlier.
But the ground is still cold, so the cold ground is causing us to get more males." Janzen thinks that the overabundance of males will stress the species.
Combined with the adult females being forced to change nesting habits, the stresses could mean the species is under real pressure to adapt swiftly, a pace not popularly considered to characterize turtles, he said.
New research indicates that for loggerhead sea turtles in the Northwest Atlantic, the number of returning nesting females in the population and favorable climate conditions in the year or two prior ...
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