Congratulations to PACE Lab graduate student Devin Edmonds who received a grant from the Friends of Nachusa Grassland to study the hibernation patterns of the state threatened Ornate Box Turtle. This research will help inform land managers’ timing of prescribed burns to decrease risk of harm to this declining species.
A technician is sought to collect demographic data on amphibians collected from drift fence arrays surrounding vernal wetlands in central Illinois and reptiles from cover board arrays in old field and prairie habitats in central and northern Illinois. The technician will work independently and with others to collect data on amphibian and reptile demographics (identify, count, weigh, mark, and measure species). Records data manually and electronically into a database using a tablet. Prepares, under supervision, data summaries and quarterly reports. The technician will be responsible for decontamination of sampling equipment and boots, maintenance of equipment and fences, data entry, data management, tissue collection, amphibian and reptile marking and operate a variety of hand tools, electronics, and mechanical equipment such as 4WD vehicles and Utility Terrain Vehicles.
Work is performed in prairie and wooded environments where there is exposure to extremes of weather and temperature. The work requires moderate to strenuous physical exertion such as long periods of standing, walking over rough, uneven, rocky, steep, and muddy surfaces; bending, crouching, stretching, lifting, and carrying up to 40 lbs. Long hours in the field should be expected and some work on weekends may be required. Duration of the season will be from mid-January through August 2019.
Dr. Sarah Baker accepted a position as a herpetologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department in October 2018.
Dr. Baker began at INHS as a graduate student conducting research on the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. She was at the forefront of the discovery and subsequent research of Snake Fungal Disease in Illinois Massasaugas. During her 12 years here, she authored and co-authored several papers and collaborated with researchers across the country.
Sarah will remain an affiliate of INHS and we look forward to future collaborations.
M.S. Research Position in Amphibian Ecology and Conservation
Drs. Michael Dreslik (Illinois Natural History Survey) and John Crawford (National Great Rivers Research and Education Center) are seeking a graduate student to pursue a Master of Science with the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). This is a funded project that will investigate the population ecology and demography of Jefferson-complex (Ambystoma jeffersonianum and A. platineum) and blue-spotted salamanders (A. laterale) in Illinois. Census techniques will include the use of drift fence arrays, minnow trapping, and dip-netting. There will be opportunities for the student to ask additional ecological questions within the study system. Additional research responsibilities will include: entering and analyzing data; presenting results at scientific meetings and writing scientific reports and manuscripts.
Competitive applicants will have: 1) a B.S. in Biology, Ecology, Wildlife or other related fields; 2) field research experience; 3) a strong work ethic; 4) ability to work well with others; and 5) a valid driver’s license. The successful applicant will be expected to enroll at the University of Illinois for the Spring 2019 semester (November 1 application deadline). Preference will be given to students with prior experience working with amphibians and/or drift fence arrays. To apply, combine cover letter, resume/CV, transcripts, GRE scores, and contact information (e-mail and phone) for three references into a single PDF document and submit by e-mail to Michael Dreslik (email@example.com) with the subject heading, “AmbystomaEcology”.
For more information, email Dr. Michael Dreslik (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Dr. John Crawford (email@example.com).
Baker, S. J., E. J. Kessler, and M. E. Merchant. Antibacterial activities of plasma from the Common (Chelydra serpentina) and Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).
Dreslik, M. J., E. J. Kessler, J. L. Carr, D. B. Ligon, and S. Ballard. Mortality is too damn high: challenges of Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) translocations.
Edmonds, D., R. Nyboer, and M. J. Dreslik. Population dynamics of the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) at two sites in Illinois.
Kessler, E. J., K. T. Ash, S. N. Barratt, E. R. Larson, and M. A. Davis. Assessing the efficacy of environmental DNA to detect Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) at the edge of their range.
Merchant, M. E., E. J. Kessler, and S. J. Baker. Differences in innate immune mechanisms in Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles.
Ross, J. P., D. Thompson, and M. J. Dreslik. Demographic influence of head-starting on a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) population in DuPage County, Illinois.
Herpetological Field Assistant Taylor West came across a Western Hognose Snake last week while surveying sand prairies. Given the hot temperatures, she and fellow field assistant Tristan Schramer offered the snake some water. Video of the encounter has been shared over 10,000 times!
Grace Wu, is a master’s student with the Natural Resources and Environmental Science Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has recently received a scholarship from The Garden Club of Downers Grove for her research in the field of wildlife conservation. Her thesis research topic is exploring the diversity, occupancy, and abundance of snake species within chronological stages of tallgrass prairie restoration. The study takes place within Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie located in Will County, Illinois. Along with a high-quality prairie remnant, Grant Creek Prairie Nature Preserve. The award will help purchase the 500 cover objects needed to survey snakes within Midewin and the IDNR site. Grace will be gathering data for three years, which will contribute to the understanding of little-known correlations between tallgrass prairie restoration and snake assemblages.
Historically the Ornate Box Turtle was known from 45 counties in Illinois. Today you can count the number of counties with confirmed populations on two hands. This decline landed the species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Species of Illinois in 2009, with habitat loss and road mortality being the greatest threats to its continued survival.
We had the opportunity to survey two of the largest known Ornate Box Turtle sites this past week, with the goal of finding, measuring, and marking as many turtles as possible. With enough recaptures, we can calculate how likely it is for an individual to survive from one year to the next and determine population size. This helps us answer questions including: has population size changed over time? Is the population stable, increasing, or decreasing? Is the population at risk of extinction?
Searching for reptiles and amphibians is often quite tedious. You have to carefully scan ahead of each step for movement before a snake gets away, or spend hours flipping over logs to find the particular salamander you are looking for.
Fortunately, we were assisted on our survey by John Rucker and his Boykin Spaniels, who are not pets but rather working dogs. Years ago one dog proudly brought John Rucker a box turtle it turned up in the woods of Tennessee. He praised the dog and soon it brought back another one in its mouth. Eventually he turned his group of turtle finding dogs into a profession, helping biologists find these once common but increasingly rare chelonians for study.
With John’s dogs, our work was made easy. They carried on ahead of us, their noses to the ground, brown bodies nearly concealed by knee-high grass. When a turtle was found, a dog picked it up in its mouth and carried the reptile like a precious toy, walking to John with pride and eyeing anyone else who offered to take the turtle from it with suspicion. John praised the dog and then gave the turtle to one of us to to be worked up.
To keep track of individual turtles we are catching and whether they survive from one year to the next we mark each turtle with a code. The process is called shell notching, and involves cutting little pieces out of the marginal scutes (the sections of shell that border the outer edge) to assign a unique identification code to each individual turtle. The scutes are numbered from one to twelve on left and right sides, and by notching different combinations of scutes on each side more than 30,000 individuals can be individually identified. For example, by cutting a little section of shell on the first scute on the left side and the third scute on the right, you have just identified an individual as 01L-03R. When done properly, the shell notches stay with the turtle for the rest of its life.
Mortality events due to disease outbreaks have been documented in the closely related Eastern Box Turtle, and there is concern that the Ornate Box Turtle is also at risk. While we were marking and measuring turtles, Dr. Matt Allender and members of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab were giving each turtle a physical exam, drawing blood, and swabbing their mouth and cloaca to screen for diseases and monitor health. Their work is providing a baseline for future studies on the health of box turtle populations.
With the help of the turtle dogs, we found more than one hundred turtles at the first site and nearly seventy at the second. The data is now awaiting entry and analysis, but several turtles we found were originally marked by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 1988. At more than 30 years of age, these individuals are approaching the maximum known lifespan for the species.
Together with the population health assessment, we expect our ongoing project will guide conservation efforts for the Ornate Box Turtle in Illinois and help ensure its continued survival.