Turtle Nest-Site Choice, Anthropogenic Challenges, and Evolutionary Potential for Adaptation

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Topping, Nicholas
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Copyright © 2021 Topping and Valenzuela
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology
Oviparous animals, such as turtles, lay eggs whose success or demise depends on environmental conditions that influence offspring phenotype (morphology, physiology, and in many reptiles, also sex determination), growth, and survival, while in the nest and post-hatching. Consequently, because turtles display little parental care, maternal provisioning of the eggs and female nesting behavior are under strong selection. But the consequences of when and where nests are laid are affected by anthropogenic habitat disturbances that alter suitable nesting areas, expose eggs to contaminants in the wild, and modify the thermal and hydric environment experienced by developing embryos, thus impacting hatchling survival and the sexual fate of taxa with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) and genotypic sex determination (GSD). Indeed, global and local environmental change influences air, water, and soil temperature and moisture, which impact basking behavior, egg development, and conditions within the nest, potentially rendering current nesting strategies maladaptive as offspring mortality increases and TSD sex ratios become drastically skewed. Endocrine disruptors can sex reverse TSD and GSD embryos alike. Adapting to these challenges depends on genetic variation, and little to no heritability has been detected for nest-site behavior. However, modest heritability in threshold temperature (above and below which females or males develop in TSD taxa, respectively) exists in the wild, as well as interpopulation differences in the reaction norm of sex ratio to temperature, and potentially also in the expression of gene regulators of sexual development. If this variation reflects additive genetic components, some adaptation might be expected, provided that the pace of environmental change does not exceed the rate of evolution. Research remains urgently needed to fill current gaps in our understanding of the ecology and evolution of nest-site choice and its adaptive potential, integrating across multiple levels of organization.
This article is published as Topping NE and Valenzuela N (2021) Turtle Nest-Site Choice, Anthropogenic Challenges, and Evolutionary Potential for Adaptation. Front. Ecol. Evol. 9:808621. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2021.808621. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
oviposition-site selection, freshwater and marine reptile vertebrate, temperature-dependent sex determination, natural selection and heritability, genotypic sex determination, maternal effects and egg allocation, hatchling success and female fitness, adaptation to climate change