They can survive if they manage to migrate to other habitats before their own become unsustainable

Freshwater turtles face a race against time to be able to survive climate change and will only do so if they can migrate to other habitats before their own become unsustainable by rising temperatures. This is explained in an article published in the journal Current Biology, by a group of researchers from the University of Vigo and the Natural History Museum of London.

Study by Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza and Sara Varela, from the Mapas Lab at the CIM

The study is led by Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, from the Mapas Lab, which belongs to the Marine Research Center of the University of Vigo, in collaboration with the researcher of the same group Sara Varela, and with London researchers. His research looks back in time and, using the fossil record manages to predict the distribution of turtles on an increasingly hot planet, on which they can only survive if they search for new habitats before their collapse.

Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza explains “to escape the effects of climate change and avoid extinction due to man-made climate change, turtles must migrate away from their current habitats to a more suitable environment as the planet continues to warm. Although they are not known for their speed, turtles must act urgently to overcome the pace of climate change”.

Another obstacle to taking into account is, “the anthropogenic pressures on a potential migration. However, this research provides a basis for raising awareness of turtle conservation efforts, and potentially more species, whose habitats are vulnerable to climate change”.

Turtles as an example

Turtles compared to other reptiles, have a surprisingly good fossil record due to their shells. Their ecology has not changed much in the last hundreds of millions of years, meaning they are easy to locate and identify, resulting in a relatively good understanding of their distribution. In addition, turtles have a strong relationship with their environment and exist in a very solid study system that researchers can use to understand their climatic and environmental limits.

By collecting data on turtles and environmental conditions, the team was able to measure a theoretical environmental space in which animals could potentially exist and make predictions based on known events. After successfully tracking this model in deep time (deep time) using fossil data, the group was able to reflect it in future scenarios, for example, with a rising temperature.

The importance of the fossil record

There are currently only a few analogues that can accurately predict what will happen to animals during a planetary emergency. However, the fossil record is an incredibly useful tool to help further develop this field since a climate change of this magnitude already occurred during the cooling period of the Earth and is represented in collections such as those of the Natural History Museum of London and used in this research.

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