Altered Spring Phenology of North American Freshwater Turtles and the Importance of Representative Populations

Document Type


Publication Date



© 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Globally, populations of diverse taxa have altered phenology in response to climate change. However, most research has focused on a single population of a given taxon, which may be unrepresentative for comparative analyses, and few long-term studies of phenology in ectothermic amniotes have been published. We test for climate-altered phenology using long-term studies (10–36 years) of nesting behavior in 14 populations representing six genera of freshwater turtles (Chelydra, Chrysemys, Kinosternon, Malaclemys, Sternotherus, and Trachemys). Nesting season initiation occurs earlier in more recent years, with 11 of the populations advancing phenology. The onset of nesting for nearly all populations correlated well with temperatures during the month preceding nesting. Still, certain populations of some species have not advanced phenology as might be expected from global patterns of climate change. This collection of findings suggests a proximate link between local climate and reproduction that is potentially caused by variation in spring emergence from hibernation, ability to process food, and thermoregulatory opportunities prior to nesting. However, even though all species had populations with at least some evidence of phenological advancement, geographic variation in phenology within and among turtle species underscores the critical importance of representative data for accurate comprehensive assessments of the biotic impacts of climate change.