Computational fluid dynamics in niche modeling of leatherback sea turtles
Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are among the many species threatened by global warming. Attempting to mechanistically assess the threat of global warming provides an opportunity to improve mechanistic niche modeling methods for swimming animals with biphasic lifestyles. We present work assessing future thermal threats to leatherback sea turtles using classical geometric approximations. Then we validate the use of realistic 3D animal geometries in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to calculate accurate heat and drag coefficients. Finally we assess the potential of using moving 3D bodies in CFD simulations to find accurate energy expenditures and range limits on leatherback sea turtles.
Our work shows that adult leatherbacks are threatened from global warming during their nesting phase. In some predominant nesting sites, leatherback body temperatures exceed those where hatchlings exhibit uncoordinated movement and come close to their assumed critical thermal maximum (CTM). Our work also demonstrated that the CFD programs produce more accurate drag and heat transfer measurements than classical approximations.