Climate driven egg and hatchling mortality threatens survival of eastern Pacific leatherback turtles

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37602. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037602. Epub 2012 May 23.


Egg-burying reptiles need relatively stable temperature and humidity in the substrate surrounding their eggs for successful development and hatchling emergence. Here we show that egg and hatchling mortality of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in northwest Costa Rica were affected by climatic variability (precipitation and air temperature) driven by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Drier and warmer conditions associated with El Niño increased egg and hatchling mortality. The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a warming and drying in Central America and other regions of the World, under the SRES A2 development scenario. Using projections from an ensemble of global climate models contributed to the IPCC report, we project that egg and hatchling survival will rapidly decline in the region over the next 100 years by ∼50-60%, due to warming and drying in northwestern Costa Rica, threatening the survival of leatherback turtles. Warming and drying trends may also threaten the survival of sea turtles in other areas affected by similar climate changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology*
  • Climate Change / mortality*
  • Clutch Size / physiology
  • Costa Rica
  • El Nino-Southern Oscillation*
  • Humidity
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Mortality
  • Ovum / physiology
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Temperature
  • Turtles / physiology*