Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pretty as a picta

If you live in North America, it is likely you have seen a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) sunning itself on a log in a lake or stream. But it is less likely you have seen one turned over to expose its stunning underside (PICTURED ABOVE), which explains its common name. Unlike the gravely endangered plowshare tortoises of Madagascar, painted turtles are the most widespread native turtle species on the continent and of the least concern to conservationists. But that may soon change due to global warming. The sex of painted turtle hatchlings is determined by the warmth of the eggs, so an increase in average temperatures of a mere 1.1 °C will result in the production of only female turtles. Although turtles have evolved the ability to delay laying their eggs until conditions are right, the environment is now changing too rapidly for the animals to adapt. The issue has been studied by Rory Telemeco and his colleagues at Iowa State University. Telemeco concludes, "The problem is that climate change is happening so rapidly that an evolutionary response, especially in long-lived organisms, is not likely....It's ultimately extinction."

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