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Studying the Link Between Mineral Deficiency and Survival of Turtle Hatchlings

Imperiled leatherback sea turtles have low hatch success compared with other sea turtle species. The causes remain unknown, but dead-in-nest hatchlings and hatchlings that died after emergence show abnormalities similar to those found in other vertebrates whose mothers were deficient in selenium. The liver uses selenium to detoxify ingested mercury, so selenium deficiency could be due to lack of selenium in the diet or to elevated blood mercury concentrations. Both mercury and selenium pass from mother to offspring via the yolk, and imbalanced levels may reduce hatchling survival. researchers leading this study will compare mercury and selenium concentrations in the blood and livers of hatchlings and mother turtles and will use the information to confirm or rule out selenium deficiency and excessive mercury as factors affecting hatch success.

Dr. Debra L. Miller, University of Georgia