The sex of some species of turtles is determined by the temperature of the nest: warm nests produce females, cooler nests, males. And although turtles have been on the planet for about 220 million years, scientists now report that almost half of all turtle species is threatened. Turtle scientists are working to understand how global warming may affect turtle reproduction. To bring attention to this and other issues affecting turtles, researchers and other supporters have designated 2011 as the Year of the Turtle.
Why should we be concerned about the loss of turtles?
"Turtles are centrally nested in the food web and are symbols of our natural heritage. They hold a significant role in many cultures. For example, in many southeast Asian cultures turtles are used for food, pets, and medicine," explains Deanna Olson, a research ecologist and co-chair of the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation steering committee spearheading the Year of the Turtle campaign.
Turtles (which include tortoises) are central to the food web. Sea turtles graze on the sea grass found on the ocean floor, helping to keep it short and healthy. Healthy sea grass in turn is an important breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. The same processes hold for freshwater and land turtles. For example, turtles contribute to the health of marshes and wetlands, being important prey for a suite of predators. The Year of the Turtle activities, include a monthly newsletter showcasing research and conservation efforts, education and citizen science projects, turtle-themed art, literature, and cultural perspectives, says Olson, a scientist with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station.
Olson also co-authored a report, "State of the Turtle," and created a new turtle mapping project for the United States. The report is being translated into other languages for use here and around the world.
"A French translation of the report is already completed, and groups from Bangladesh and Germany signed on recently to help promote turtle conservation, and new partners join us each week," explains Olson.
Here are a few quick facts about turtles:
What can be done to conserve turtle populations?
To read the report and learn more about the Year of the Turtle and how you can participate, please visit http://www.parcplace.org/yearoftheturtle.htm.
Materials provided by USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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