New paper analyzing long term data on Ornate Box Turtle survival

box turtle
Ornate Box Turtle Photo by D. Edmonds

PaCE Lab doctoral candidate Devin Edmonds has a new paper in the journal Wildlife Biology: “Evaluating Population Persistence of Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata) at the Northeast Edge of their Distribution.”

This work analyzed 34 years of data from one site and 8 years of data from another to estimate female and juvenile survival and population growth over time. Being able to look at a population over a long period of time provides a better understanding of the population. This study also highlighted the need to protect adult female Ornate Box Turtles if the populations are to persist.

This work was co-authored with members of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab.


Abstract: Turtles and tortoises are among the most threatened vertebrate groups. Their life history is characterized by delayed sexual maturity and a long lifespan, making populations susceptible to decline following perturbations. Despite the urgent conservation need, we are missing estimates of basic demographic traits for many species and populations. The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) is a species lacking crucial demographic data. Many populations are isolated in fragmented habitats, especially in the eastern portion of their range. We carried out long-term capture-mark-recapture surveys on two isolated populations in northern Illinois to estimate population vital rates and project population persistence with deterministic stage-based matrix models. Using 34 years of data, we estimated adult female survival = 0.974 (95% CI: 0.946–0.988) and juvenile survival = 0.867 (95% CI: 0.688–0.951) at our most intensively surveyed site. At a second site using 8 years of data, we estimated adult female survival = 0.897 (95% CI: 0.783–0.954) and juvenile survival = 0.844 (95% CI: 0.551–0.960). Despite seemingly high annual survival rates, populations declined under population projections using mean vital rates. Population growth was most sensitive to adult survival, with increasing sensitivity under more pessimistic scenarios. Our results highlight the importance of long-term demographic studies for threatened species and demonstrate protecting adult female ornate box turtles is critical for ensuring populations persist at the northern edge of their distribution.

Read the full paper: