Modelling the climatic niche of turtles: a deep-time perspective

Amy Waterson, Daniela Schmidt, Paul Valdes, Patricia A. Holroyd, David B. Nicholson, Alexander Farnsworth, Paul Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
255 Downloads (Pure)


Ectotherms have close physiological ties with the thermal environment; consequently, the impact of future climate change on their biogeographic distributions is of major interest. Here, we use the modern and deep-time fossil record of testudines (turtles, tortoises and terrapins) to provide the first test of climate on the niche limits of both extant and extinct (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian) taxa. Ecological niche models are used to assess niche overlap in model projections for key testudine ecotypes and families. An ordination framework is applied to quantify metrics of niche change (stability, expansion and unfilling) between the Maastrichtian and present-day. Results indicate that niche stability over evolutionary timescales varies between testudine clades. Groups that originated in the early Cretaceous show climatic niche stability, whereas those diversifying towards the end of the Cretaceous display larger niche expansion towards the modern. Temperature is the dominant driver of modern and past distributions, while precipitation is important for freshwater turtle ranges. Our findings demonstrate that testudines were able to occupy warmer climates than present day in the geological record. However, the projected rate and magnitude of future environmental change, in concert with other conservation threats, presents challenges for acclimation or adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20161408
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sep 2016


  • Testudine
  • ecological niche model
  • niche stability
  • Late Cretaceous


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