Effects of life-history requirements on the distribution of a threatened reptile


Survival and reproduction are the two primary life‐history traits essential for species' persistence; however, the environmental conditions that support each of these traits may not be the same. Despite this, reproductive requirements are seldom considered when estimating species' potential distributions. We sought to examine potentially limiting environmental factors influencing the distribution of an oviparous reptile of conservation concern with respect to the species' survival and reproduction and to assess the implications of the species' predicted climatic constraints on current conservation practices. We used ecological niche modeling to predict the probability of environmental suitability for the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). We built an annual climate model to examine survival and a nesting climate model to examine reproduction. We combined incubation temperature requirements, products of modeled soil temperature data, and our estimated distributions to determine whether embryonic development constrained the northern distribution of the species. Low annual precipitation constrained the western distribution of alligator snapping turtles, whereas the northern distribution was constrained by thermal requirements during embryonic development. Only a portion of the geographic range predicted to have a high probability of suitability for alligator snapping turtle survival was estimated to be capable of supporting successful embryonic development. Historic occurrence records suggest adult alligator snapping turtles can survive in regions with colder climes than those associated with consistent and successful production of offspring. Estimated egg‐incubation requirements indicated that current reintroductions at the northern edge of the species' range are within reproductively viable environmental conditions. Our results highlight the importance of considering survival and reproduction when estimating species' ecological niches, implicating conservation plans, and benefits of incorporating physiological data when evaluating species' distributions.



Document Type





ecological niche model, embryonic development, incubation, macrochelys temminckii, reproductive ecology, soil temperature, turtles

Publication Date


Journal Title

Conservation Biology