(Gainesville, Florida) Global warming is expected to cause entire ecosystems to change, with a slow poleward migration of species. Now, researchers are finding that the slowest-moving species are providing the earliest signals of global warming.
"Just as some animals can sense the approach of a storm or the imminence of an earthquake, turtles are providing an early warning sign of global warming," explained Prof. Steven Snapper of the State University of New Jersey. "Since turtles are so slow moving, they need a 'head start' in their species migration, providing a ten to twenty year longer lead time in the anticipation of future global temperatures than any other species".
The turtle's migratory habits are tracked with tiny radio transmitters with long-life batteries. "Snails actually give even greater lead times, up to 50 years, since they migrate much more slowly than turtles, but our radio transmitters bog them down too much", said Prof. Snapper.
Professor Harmony Green of the Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida agreed, adding, "We also see analogous behavior in sea turtles. These turtles are making their nests at higher and higher points on the beach, farther above sea level, in apparent anticipation of future sea level rise from global warming."
Reports of tropical turtle sightings far from their original habitats continue to pour into turtle research centers around the world. In one startling discovery, a Michigan mother found her young daughter playing with what turned out to be a Brazilian radiolated swamp turtle in their back yard. The turtle had apparently traveled thousands of miles before being discovered.
"These migrating turtles are at great risk, since they have to cross so many roads and interstate highways without being struck by cars", explained Prof. Green. "We are trying to inform the public to be aware of turtles crossing the roads, especially if they are traveling in a northward direction."
Prof. Green also said that a number of states are now considering adding turtle crossing signs in areas of frequent turtle sightings. A more expensive option being considered by California is the digging of 'turtle tunnels' under road beds in those areas to provide greater safety for the migrating turtles.
Both researchers report that turtle watching clubs are springing up all over the United States. The turtle watchers know the approximate dates on which the first turtles arrive in their areas. Up to a hundred people have gathered at a time, binoculars in hand, anxiously waiting the first sighting of the season, which is then usually celebrated with a party, at which many adult beverages are consumed.
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